One of the group discussions during the seminar
One of the group discussions during the AT Seminar

The Zambia Federation of Disability Organizations (ZAFOD), in partnership with the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD), organized an Assistive Technology (AT) Seminar in Lusaka, Zambia, Friday 4th May 2018. The event aimed to increase awareness about the range of AT products available, and identify challenges and possible solutions to increasing access to AT in Zambia.

The seminar is part of the the Assistive Technology Information Mapping project (AT-Info-Map) currently being implemented by SAFOD in 10 countries in Southern Africa, namely Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.  This innovative project is currently capturing, organizing, and mapping availability of AT with a mobile data system called CommCare.

Throughout the project, a series of consultation meetings and workshops with various stakeholders, including relevant government ministries, AT suppliers, rehabilitation professionals, and disability advocates, have yielded a number of lessons regarding AT, key among them is the need for increasing general awareness about AT.

Stakeholders at the Zambia seminar noted that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Disabled Peoples Organization (DPOs) can help “in identifying the needs for persons with disabilities related to AT.” They further noted that besides providing actual AT, CSOs and DPOs can help in supporting research related to AT to inform decision decision-making by Government and other strategic stakeholders.

They also noted that the Government, being the major custodian of law, can hep in the enactment of policy and legislation, as well as providing an enabling environment in the provision of AT in order to enhance access. In addition, the Government can play an important role in financing, service provision, and AT training.

However, stakeholders noted that there was a lot that needed to be done by CSOs, Government and other stakeholders to enhance AT awareness. For example, they recommended that the stakeholders should adopt the following awareness strategies:

(a) To engage mass media in dissemination of information even to far-away places, such as rural areas.
(b) To engage policy makers through lobby meeting using strategic persons in various positions within the Government system.
(c) To conduct AT EXPOs where different stakeholders would showcase different AT that they provide.
(d) To include AT information in school curriculum so that everyone is sensitized about AT as early as possible.

The stakeholders, however, noted that there was not much happening in Zambia to help persons with disabilities access AT, hence the delegates strongly recommended the need to Government and strategic stakeholders to carry out more research in the AT sector that would inform more interventions.

In his closing remarks, ZAFOD President, Mr. Nakawa Chiyala, acknowledged SAFOD’s support towards the AT-Info-Map project in Zambia, and pledged to keep SAFOD and all other stakeholders engaged and updated on the progress of the project.

On his part, SAFOD Director General, Mr. Mussa Chiwaula, said assistive technology advocacy in the region was a revolution that the disability movement needed to harness in order to promote inclusion and independent living. In this context, he stressed that SAFOD was keen to promote the use of AT  in furthering the empowerment of persons with disabilities in the region.

SAFOD plans to hold another AT seminar in the near future in another country yet to be decided – out of the ten countries in which the the project is currently running. SAFOD hopes that these seminars will help te organization, together with its core partners – the University of Washington and the African Network for Evidenceto-Action in Disability (AfriNEAD) – to gain a deeper understanding of the key issues affecting levels of access to AT by persons with disabilities in the region, and competently advise DPOs, Governments and other stakeholders regarding viable strategies that can help to increase AT access by persons with disabilities.

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