Millicent Agangiba was four years old when she was diagnosed with polio – this altered the trajectory of her life. She underwent years of medical treatment, and while her condition improved significantly, her mobility remained a challenge.
As a result of her disability, Millicent struggled with an inferiority complex, which she explained was exacerbated by her school peers. They often mocked her disability and refused to include her in classroom and playground activities.
“Initially, I would feel lonely at school because most of the children called me names and didn’t want to associate with me. My father said: ‘Never mind, just learn hard and use your brain to showcase yourself.’ His advice worked,” she said.
Thanks to her father’s advice, she conquered her feelings of inadequacy very early in her life. The young, bright mind buried herself in her books, performed excellently at school, and owing to her popularity with her teachers, she attracted many friends – both in her neighbourhood and in the classroom.
“Because of this experience, I am committed to changing the perception of society when it comes to the way people with disabilities are viewed.”
She breezed through her primary and secondary school years in Ghana, and when she passed matric, she received a Russian government scholarship to study computer science at the Tver State Technical University in Russia. Fast-forward a few years and this wife and mother of three will graduate with her PhD in information systems from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Commerce.
Millicent started her doctoral degree in UCT’s Department of Information Systems in 2015. Her research was titled “Accessibility of e-government services for persons with disabilities in developing countries” with an emphasis on her home country, Ghana.
“A career in information systems was never really part of the plan. But out of my desire to impact society, the seed was planted. Information systems emphasises the needs of people using technology development and management. This was my main reason for venturing into the field,” she said.
Her research, the first-ever study of its kind for her native land, involved conducting empirical investigations into digital accessibility for people with disabilities in Ghana. She made use of a multi-stakeholder approach that included feedback from people with disabilities and software developers, as well as the government.
The findings, she explained, indicate that government, software developers and people with disabilities hold different views on what digital accessibility means, especially for people with disabilities. Her research also unravelled factors such as technological, sociocultural and political contexts that exclude people with disabilities from digital services.
Millicent said that there have been many unforgettable moments at UCT. Shortly after her arrival she was awarded a scholarship from the Schlumberger Foundation, an international non-profit organisation (NPO) that supports women pursuing careers in science and technology.
That same year she received the L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellowship for Women in Science – the only UCT student to receive the accolade that year. And in 2017 she accepted the Best Poster Award at the 17th European Conference on Digital Government in Lisbon, Portugal.
Sharing her research on an international stage with researchers from around the world at six international conferences, including the European Conference on Information Systems, was a “big achievement” and brought her “great fulfilment”.
“When I mounted those international platforms to present my research, it felt good to know that the international scholarly community was interested in my research.”
“When I mounted those international platforms to present my research, it felt good to know that the international scholarly community was interested in my research,” she said.
“I could not have done it without the support of the department and the university community. Thank you to all these influences for making my PhD journey at UCT most successful.”
‘Never give up’
Millicent dedicates her doctoral degree to her father, who in his lifetime provided her with ongoing support and nurtured her can-do spirit. He encouraged her to never give up and to always chase her dreams.
Even when she made the “difficult decision” to leave behind her seven-month-old baby in Ghana to pursue her PhD, she said that her dad cheered her on and assured her that the separation would only be temporary, and worth it in the end.
“I lost my father while completing my PhD. This was a difficult time for me. He was my number one supporter, a great pillar of strength and my source of academic motivation. This one’s (PhD) for you, dad,” Millicent said.
“Thanks to my very supportive husband, I managed to overcome this difficulty. He took perfect care of me and our children. This made everything so much better.”
She also expressed her gratitude towards her supervisor, Associate Professor Salah Kabanda, for her support and mentorship throughout her years at UCT.
Here and now
After concluding her PhD, Millicent resumed her role as lecturer at the University of Mines and Technology in Tarkwa in Ghana. She also successfully applied for a senior lecturer position in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
She is committed to implementing her PhD research findings, and she has since established an NPO to develop accessible and affordable assistive technologies for people with disabilities in Ghana. In addition, her organisation also provides training programmes to facilitate digital integration for people with disabilities.
“This is my way of giving back to society and giving people with disabilities the opportunities they deserve in order to progress and move forward,” she said.
“Everyone deserves equal opportunity.”
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