Ahead of their participation at AidEx Nairobi 2019, our interview with Action Network for Disabled (ANDY) and youth advocate for disability rights Maria Njeri highlights both an organisational and individual perspective of young Kenyan’s lived experience of disability.
There is a high prevalence of disability (13.5%) among children and young people in Kenya according to the last major survey conducted in 2016. With the country’s co-hosting of the Global Disability Summit in July 2018 alongside the UK, Kenya has demonstrated a commitment to improve inclusion.
The Government has enacted the Persons with Disability Act 2003 and established the National Development Fund and Council for Persons with Disabilities, whilst the Constitution requires the implementation of at least five per cent employment representation. ANDY argue, “it is actively promoting disability mainstreaming to anchor disability into government plans and programmes.
“However, in Kenya just like in many developing countries around the world, legal and policy frameworks often provide insufficient protection or inadequately address the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development. Meanwhile many live in poverty, have limited opportunities for accessing education, health, suitable housing and employment opportunities.”
Barriers to inclusion
Maria believes there is “nowhere near enough support”, which is due to three factors: affordability, accessibility and acceptability. Public schools lack the resources to adequately meet the needs of children living with a disability, when 31% have multiple disabilities and the most vulnerable face abuse and lack basic needs – this is what Njeri refers to as double tragedies.
Growing up with cerebral palsy, Maria highlights how misunderstood the condition is in Kenya, causing misdiagnoses or wrong categorisation under mental or physical disabilities which leads to inadequate specialist intervention and exclusion. Describing her personal experience, she says:
“I recall the challenges of family feuds, finding good quality therapy and affordable medical services which is still extremely expensive and inaccessible. Finding schools that would accept and accommodate my needs was chaotic – perhaps my most difficult experience.”
Maria remarks on the scarce accessibility of classrooms and teachers lacking special education training: “I wanted to learn and I could learn but because of my limitations, not all schools were willing to enrol me which meant I couldn’t keep up with the system, other children or assignments.”
Maria with British MP Stephen Twigg MP at the House of Commons on behalf of Leonard Cheshire
ANDY assert three of the key obstacles preventing progress in disability; no accurate of readily available disaggregated statistics; stigma and lack of sensitisation; discriminatory laws and practices.
Maria believes the lack of public participation of people with disabilities in laws, policy formulation, decision making, and the implementation of processes to foster exclusionary physical and social systems has subsequently led to insufficient budget allocation and funding.
How can the situation improve?
ANDY ardently insist inclusive education is the key to improving civic participation, employment, and community life for people with disabilities: “Inclusive systems provide a better education for all children and are instrumental in changing discriminatory attitudes. Respect and understanding grows when students of diverse abilities and backgrounds play, socialise, and learn together.”
Maria believes Kenya is making strides towards having a better attitude towards people with disabilities and the response has been positive. She states:
“We are getting there. Over the last two or three years there has been a blast of physical, social and educational awareness. People with disabilities have also been more engaged in both the mainstream and social media, public and social forums, and have become outspoken activists telling their stories. There are many more parents, caregivers, school places and corporates hiring more people with disabilities, more conversations, interactions and relationships.”
ANDY agree there has been attitude changes visible in public, private and civil society initiatives. They note improved provision of assistive devices in health and education programmes and the earmarking of disability funds across the board. “Training of more educators in inclusive education to meet the increased demand in schools has also contributed immensely towards attitudinal change,” they say.
The organisation is adamant the application of existing disability laws must be at the forefront of the government agenda. Maria meanwhile emphasises the need to bridge the gap between people with disabilities and society by “initiating interactions and relationships, collaborations and partnerships with public and private stakeholders”, in order to create an empathetic system. The key message both ANDY and Maria are determined to make evident is that inclusion works not just for people with disabilities, but for society.
Maria Njeri is a diversity and inclusion expert as the Founder of the Maria Njeri Foundation, Goodwill Ambassador for the Cerebral Palsy Society in Kenya and Leonard Cheshire Facilitator.
Faustine Chepchirchir is the Communications Assistant for Action Network for the Disabled (ANDY), a National Disabled Persons Organization (DPO) dedicated to achieve equality, inclusion, and empowerment of children and youth with disabilities in Kenya through mainstreaming this group into all aspects of daily life.