We must include and empower people with disabilitiesPosted: 8 December, 2015 | |
Today one billion people around the world are living with disabilities. According to Kenya National Survey for Persons with Disabilities more than three million people in Kenya are living with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities have good jobs and proper education. However, far too many persons with disabilities in Kenya face barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.
Thursday 3 December 2015 was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This day was declared by the United Nations in 1992 to be a day for increasing awareness of the challenges persons living with disabilities face. This day should serve to remind us as a people that we can do better to include and support the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
In 2006 the United Nations again took another bold step in adopting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Kenya ratified the convention in 2008, essentially making it part of Kenyan laws through article 2(6) of the Constitution. The purpose of this convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. This is in line with the 2015 theme on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, captioned ‘Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities’.
Many laws in Kenya seek to protect the rights of persons living with disabilities. The Constitution not only proscribes disability based discrimination but also recognizes braille, sign language and other accessible format as official languages in Kenya. Importantly the Constitution recognizes that the right to be treated with dignity, equal access to educational facilities, reasonable access to all places. Furthermore, it entrenches the affirmative action to facilitate the progressive realization of at least 5% elective and appointive government posts for Persons with disabilities in. The Persons with Disabilities Act of 2003 provides a framework for access to services and inclusion of persons with disabilities in all facets of life. The Basic Education Act of 2014 seeks to protect the right to education for children with disabilities. The Election Act of 2011 similarly seeks to ensure the right to vote for persons with disabilities is protected and fulfilled.
However, despite these legal achievements persons with disabilities in Kenya continue to face exclusion and discrimination. Women and girls with disabilities suffer double discrimination i.e. gender and disability. Those living with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities continue to be locked away in psychiatric institution. Students with disabilities are still not allowed in mainstream schools and colleges. Even for those who have the chance to gain admission the environment is inaccessible making their lives more difficult leading many to drop out. The same scenario is experienced for those who gain employment. Attitudinal barrier make it difficult for persons with disabilities to gain meaningful employment. New buildings are not accessible, although they should be, and public transport remains inaccessible.
In Kenya persons with disabilities face discrimination at almost every turn. Yes, life can be challenging for many persons with disabilities — but not because they are sick, helpless or waiting for handouts. Just the opposite — persons with disabilities want to go to school and to work, to have friends and fall in love, and to live in their own homes and become part of their communities. Persons with disabilities are here to stay and growing in numbers. They are not only among us, they are us — each one of us has the potential to suffer one form of disability or another. We need to work together to do better at accepting and including persons with disabilities in our communities and in our lives. We need to value persons with disabilities for their individual skills, talents and contributions. Only then will persons with disabilities feel included and empowered. That is what the International Day of Persons with Disabilities should inspire us to do.
About the Author:
William is a Program Advisor in charge of disability rights program at Kenya Human Rights Commission. He holds LLB & LLM from Catholic University of Eastern Africa and Syracuse University College of Law respectively. He was awarded the Disability Rights Scholarship Program administered by Open Society Foundations.