Let's address exclusion in all its forms to build a better society

OPINION |

President Uhuru Kenyatta launches the 'Status Report on Disability Inclusion in Kenya, 2021' during the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the KICC, Nairobi. [PSCU, Standard]

Globally, it is estimated that about 15 per cent of the population is living with some form of disability. In Kenya 2 per cent, or about 900,000 people, are living with some form of disability. Their meaningful participation in all aspects of society is central to the idea of equality in all its forms, be it gender, social, or economic equality.

Inclusion of people living with disabilities (PWDs) and the advancement of their rights is firmly situated at the heart of Kenya's Constitution and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It requires targeted government interventions to implement health, social protection, economic empowerment and education programmes that directly support PWDs.

During the 2018 Global Disability Summit hosted by Kenya, UK and the International Disability Alliance, Kenya made eight commitments towards improving disability inclusion. The commitments focused on inclusive education, economic empowerment, ending stigma and discrimination, collection of accurate data on PWDs and harnessing technology and innovation to drive national disability policies and programmes.

For this reason part of the focus of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD) which was marked last Friday in Nairobi under the theme: “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-Covid-19 world” was to review the status of the country's progress in ensuring the rights of PWDs.  

As the country prepares to take part in the second Global Disability Summit in 2022, it is important to show that interventions are embedded in the policies and institutions that drive the development agenda. Some of the key milestones include establishment of a single registry by the National Social Protection Secretariat to coordinate data on vulnerable persons benefiting from State welfare, including PWDs.

The Kenya Population and Housing Census 2019 also features data on disability which is key in planning and decision-making. The Ministry of Health has also developed a guideline and manual on the identification and referral of children with disabilities and special needs.

PWDs can and want to be productive members of society, but to do so, their right to achieve the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination remains of paramount importance. Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to barriers that impede their access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.

Health workers often make the inaccurate assumption that women with disabilities are asexual or unfit to be mothers. PWDs face increased vulnerability to gender-based violence, compounded by discrimination based on disability. A 2018 global study by UNFPA revealed that young people with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to experience sexual violence than people without disabilities

Improving the capacity, knowledge and attitude of health workers on the rights of people with disability and their health needs is therefore critical to achieving universal health coverage and increasing access to cross-sectorial public health interventions such as water, sanitation and hygiene services.

To deliver patient-centred quality health services, the infrastructure across all levels of health facilities, including those in rural areas, should take into consideration accessibility issues by providing necessary accommodations such as height adjustable examination tables and beds, adapted diagnostic machines and toilets as well as access ramps.

A disability is only disabling when it prevents someone from doing what they wish to do. The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the crucial role that technology and innovation can play in supporting disability-inclusive development to ensure no one is left behind. Assistive devices and technologies have enabled persons with disabilities to fully participate in education, employment and leisure.

These technologies must remain accessible to all PWDs, even in the post-Covid-19 period. Mainstreaming has also proven to be an effective strategy in making sure that the concerns and experiences of PWDs are factored in the design, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes. Organisations must work faster to adopt such processes that are geared towards inclusivity while removing barriers to make physical and digital environments more accessible to all.

Without access to the physical environment, transportation, technologies and other facilities and services provided to the public, PWDs would not have equal opportunities for participation in their societies.

Evidence shows that when barriers to their inclusion are removed, persons with disabilities are empowered, which in turn benefits the entire community. We should address exclusion in all its forms to build a better society for all.

 -Prof Kobia is Cabinet Secretary, Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs and Special Programmes. Dr Ademola is UNFPA Representative, Kenya.

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