Paul Ajuwon, professor in the department of counseling, leadership and special education, uses his experience as a blind man to teach students at Missouri State University and volunteer his expertise abroad in Africa.
Ajuwon was originally drawn to Missouri State University in 2004 by his fascination with a new program that was added to the department of special education. This program prepares teachers for working with students who have a visual impairment.
“I really wanted to be involved in making a difference in a program that aims to create new opportunities and hopes for children with special needs through effective training of teachers,” Ajuwon said.
Ajuwon credits his desire to work as a special educator largely to his experience with disability.
“The personal experience continually propels me to assist people in similar circumstances, so they can achieve their hopes and aspirations and become useful to the society at large,” Ajuwon said.
Troy Shirk, a Bear Line driver at MSU, considers Ajuwon to be both a positive mentor and friend.
“He is a very giving person,” Shirk said. “Although he is blind, he sees more, whether it be in his surroundings or in people, than a majority of people with no impairments. The man has successfully navigated our world. This world is definitely a better place with Dr. Paul in it.”
Not only does Ajuwon assist students at MSU by teaching courses such as braille reading and writing, he does education and rehabilitation work throughout Africa, more specifically in his home country of Nigeria.
“Because I visit the continent from time to time, I am in a better position to see firsthand the issues that impact persons with special needs, their families and the society at large,” Ajuwon said.
Ajuwon’s work in Africa includes training teachers in special and general education and school administration. He also trains parents and caregivers so they are better equipped to advocate for children with disabilities.
“There is a dearth (scarcity) of specialized resources in most schools for the disabled in Africa because special education remains a low priority for their governments,” Ajuwon said. “There are also large numbers of children, youth and adults who are not receiving services at all. To compound the situation, there is no social safety net similar to what exists in the United States or Canada, and the families of these children find it difficult to keep up with the high cost of educating their children with special needs.”
According to Ajuwon, there are three pillars that drive any educator: teaching, research and volunteer service. Ajuwon’s volunteerism is extensive.
In the summer of 2018, Ajuwon spent 70 days developing a new curriculum and improvements to campus services available to students and faculty members with disabilities at the University of Jos in Nigeria.
In the summer of 2019, he delivered special equipment and books donated to the teachers of students with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome and visual impairments at schools in Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria.
Because there is a scarcity of resources available for special education in Africa, these donations benefit both students and faculty.
“The donated resources I deliver to these institutions goes a long way to help the children to learn,” Ajuwon said. “Their teachers also gain new ideas and skills from the donated textbooks on special education.”
Ajuwon will be returning to Lagos and Ghana, Nigeria in January 2020, where he will perform a three-day lecture on braille literacy training. Aside from the lecture, he will be delivering laptops to a rehabilitation center and assist the adult students with visual impairments in operating the speech software programs featured on the laptops.
Ajuwon is seeking donations for assistive devices similar to these laptops that will be used throughout his endeavors in Nigeria to help children with autism, down syndrome and visual impairments.
These devices include tablets for building speech and language communications skills, braille machines for developing writing skills in visually impaired children, magnification devices for children with albinism, and mobility canes for teaching environmental navigation to visually impaired learners.
“I believe that these assistive technology devices can enable children with special needs to achieve educational success and gain competitive employment, particularly in a developing country like Nigeria,” Ajuwon said.
Donations can be made via checks payable to:Dr. Paul Ajuwon Dept. of Counseling. Special Education Missouri State University PCOB 112-E, 901 S. National Springfield, MO 65897