The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that people with disabilities make up 10 per cent of the total population in Kenya, translating to approximately 3.5 million people.
These people have the right to use a language of their own choice, whether sign language, braille or other appropriate technology to aid them access quality education.
A person with disability is also entitled to access educational institutions and facilities for persons with disabilities that are integrated into society.
The Government has adopted a number of laws and policies aimed at empowering, protecting and providing opportunities for people with disabilities.
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For instance, the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003 saw the abolition of tuition fees leading to a surge in enrollment from 6 million to 7.2 million pupils.
Although this was seen as a boost to the education sector in general, free education may not be free for pupils with visual impairment as out of the 45,000 visually-impaired children in Kenya; only 7,000 have access to quality education.
This is compounded by the fact that cost of educating a child with visual disability is triple that of a sighted child.
WHO’s report on the magnitude and causes of visual impairment of 2002 reveals that more than 161 million people were visually impaired of whom 124 million were people with low vision (LV) and 37 million were blind. Unless major initiatives are taken, this figure could double by the year 2020.
Further, statistics from the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa (KBTA), a non-governmental organization that aims at improving the lives of blind and visually-impaired children in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, and Ethiopia, discloses that only 37 per cent of visually-impaired students in Kenya have access to braille machines, the rest are forced to share at a ratio of 1:3 posing a challenge to their access and quality of education.
The cost of a braille machine is approximately Sh80,000 while a ream of Braille paper is Sh750, one subject text book costs Sh3,000 among other needs. These devices are not affordable for many parents and guardians, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I wish to laud the Government for passing legislation pertaining to people with disabilities, which promotes their rights and ensures that their needs are met.
However, accessibility of quality education remains the biggest challenge that these people face in their lives as the Government’s efforts to address barriers and constraints faced by visually-impaired pupils are minimal.
For instance, every year, under the Free Primary Education programme, the Government sets aside Sh3,000 per blind child in the National Integrated Education Programme for the visually impaired, this is relatively low compared to cost of a Braille machine.
Over the years, the role of education for the child with visual disability has often been ignored, downplayed and belittled resulting in dropouts from school and a general sense of despair and hopelessness.
As a result of this setback, children with visual disability are yet to enjoy basic rights such as access to educational programme, facilities and use of assistive devices as enshrined in the Constitution.
These challenges have denied them competitive advantage, endless possibilities and opportunities of being educated. If these children are supported with not only words of encouragement but with access to education and assistive devices, they may experience a significant change in their lives and achieve their career goals.
The responsibility to ensure access to quality education by persons with visual disability cannot be left to the Government alone. There’s need for public-private-partnerships to support education of our children and improve their literacy.
Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa has been on the forefront to support education of visually impaired pupils by providing assistive devices and ensuring that the devices are in good working condition.
Through its programme, KBTA has up to date provided access to 650 new braille machines and over 50 tonnes of braille paper reaching over 20,000 children and trained 170 school-based braille repairs and maintenance technicians across Africa.
In order to further empower children with visual disabilities, early this month KBTA launched a six-week fundraising drive that will see funds collected to partially fill the current gap of 800 braille machines at a cost of $800 per unit in order to realize the desired goal of 1:1 ratio of machine to child.
With help from stakeholders in the banking, entertainment, food processing among other sectors, over Sh11 million has so far been raised.
Such collective efforts by the private sector, NGOs, public sector and well-wishers are crucial in securing the future of visually-impaired children in the country.