Today we had a fun and successful half day at the Ethiopian National Association on Intellectual Disabilities (ENAID), a vocational training program for adults with intellectual disabilities. The director of the center, Mihret Nigussie, gave a tour and provided background about the adults that attend the center. She explained that some Ethiopian primary and secondary schools have special education classrooms where the adults would have been educated as children. At 18, they leave those classrooms and come to ENAID where they continue with some classroom learning and receive physical therapy. However, the primary training they receive is vocational. They design and weave beautiful and high-quality goods such as scarves, dishcloths and welcome mats from cotton and wool. They also have paint blocks that they use to print designs on some of textiles they create. There are currently 60-70 adults who attend the center, and the day we visited there were approximately 40. The others did not attend due to the Christmas Eve holiday.

Sam at Loom

When we arrived, the members (adults participating in training) greeted us with smiles and handshakes. Almost immediately they started to show us the looms and how they make the different products. During these interactions, it was evident to us that they had limitations with verbal production that did not allow us to understand what they were trying convey about their goods and which would also prevent them from interacting directly with customers at the markets without assistance from staff. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to help facilitate functional communication with low tech AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)! To do this, we decided to create a modified market card, which are used in Ghana to allow children with limited communication to go to the market alone to buy items for their family. With collaboration from the Director of ENAID, we designed the Market Seller Cards to contain an introduction and ENAID’s name on one side and the names and prices of the items for sale on the other.


Before we got to work, the members performed a dance for us, which we quickly joined! We were also offered coffee and popcorn as part of a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony! After the festivities, Cate and a group of TC students explained the cards and how they would be used. The members immediately understood the purpose of the cards and got very excited about making and using them!


Once the plan was hatched, we got to work and created an assembly line of sorts! We had an artist and lamination team composed of members from ENAID and TC students and supervisors. After the text was complete, the artist team drew and colored pictures of some of the top selling items (welcome mats, scarves, and mops) and the other team laminated with packing tape.

artist group

One of the highlights of this process was that our van drivers jumped right in to help write materials in Amharic, making this a true community effort!


Once the cards were created, the most exciting part of the day was setting up a market to allow the members to learn to use the cards.

Market seller card

Because many of us wanted to buy so many of their beautiful products, these training sessions, which we videotaped for future training purposes, quickly evolved into a bustling marketplace. In fact, the members become so adept at using the cards that they began to move around the crowd to offer their cards to us and the drivers to initiate and complete purchases. And it worked, because many of us left with armfuls of scarves, mats and other items!


Our half day was finished with a presentation of a $200 donation to ENAID from TC International Inclusion Project and a group photo of all of us from TC and ENAID. All in all, this was a most exciting day, as we were able to provide a simple and sustainable AAC tool for the members to enable them to be more integrated into the community at market and to sell their wares more independently.


After our half day at ENAID we had a very educational tour at the National Museum, where we learned more about Ethiopian and why it is considered the cradle of humankind. We then enjoyed a relaxing and delicious Italian meal at a local restaurant before attending a Christmas Eve midnight mass at an Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It was truly a day packed with new friends and colleagues, educational opportunities and integration with the local religious customs.