In April 2017, I was inspired to create a non-governmental organization in Rwanda with a vision to contribute to a society where persons with disabilities study, compete at the workplace and live independently through the use of technology (Assistive technology). According to the current statistics provided by the National Council of Persons with disabilities, there are 446,453 persons with disabilities in Rwanda. Those who completed secondary school and university are respectively 5,7% and 0,7%, and many of them don’t have a job. Since then, I undertook a range of training and from October 2017 until March 2018, I completed an internship at the National Union of Disability Organizations in Rwanda (NUDOR) while also doing research on the extent to which assistive devices are used locally. As a result, on 4th January 2018, Rwanda Assistive technology Access (RATA) the first organization in our country dedicated to Assistive Technology (AT) was founded. Since its creation, passionate people who shared our beliefs have been helping, cooperating to offer different activities and funds to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in Rwanda through the use of Assistive technology.
On 23th July 2018, RATA got a provisional operational certificate from the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) and then on 23th October 2019, RATA got a permanent operational certificate.
On that journey, many people have been asking: “Why do you do that? As since the creation of RATA I have been a full-time volunteer in our organization. They wonder is it because I once had a disability. As a child I had an illness called Otitis media which prevented me from hearing well. This was cured but not fully.
I used to reply: “no”. Adding that, “it’s something which is in me and I can’t escape.”
It’s something that I want to nurture each day, each morning as I believe it’s a way of showing gratitude to my life and once I see the impact, this gives me a lot of satisfaction.
I am grateful I found myself.
Having a disability I take this as a skill that can help me to do my duty in the field of disability, just as in any other field you need experience and skills to do your work well.
Maybe, I do this just because I have a passion and a love to improve the lives of persons with disabilities across all aspects of life. When passion meets commitment all things become possible. I also believe it’s a calling.
Since we opened, RATA has so far trained 17 young visually impaired to use ICT under a project called: “Empower visually impaired for employment in Rwanda.” Where we train young visually impaired people, who are out of school but who have finished the high school, we support them to look for jobs and other available opportunities. It is exciting to see 4 of them already have a job as a result. This project is supported by individual donors through Globalgiving website platform. Our organization is deeply grateful for their support.
RATA has also started to contribute in making websites in Rwanda accessible to persons with disabilities, contributing to make the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) web job portal for employment inclusive so that persons with disabilities including those with visual impairments can access it too. That project is now being implemented. The organization often shares thoughts in different areas of the country on how to bridge the disability digital divide and RATA plans to expand its activities in the rural areas of the country, to make its website a platform where people especially those in Rwanda can know more about Assistive technology and get some basic nut essential help and advice.
So far, this has been an amazing journey to me as I got to discover the inner potential of persons with disabilities and their humanity. Despite their disability, they’re one of the most inspiring persons that I ever met and full of potential. I am glad many of them are now my friends. I believe that one of the ways to help them to make their dreams come true is the use of Assistive technology in their lives that can improve their social inclusion, competing at the workplace, accessing to education and to different opportunities, and finally live independently.
I have had also the chance to learn from other passionate people in the country who are in the area of disability. I believe if there is a way to identify passionate people in different corners of the world and then to empower them to start with small things and to create relevant local tools at low cost that involve the users, we can make AT accessible to everyone who needs it.
The future through AT in Rwanda looks promising, people are beginning to know the value of AT in the lives of persons with disabilities and older people, and our government is supportive. We look forward to the journey onwards, together, from here.