Good laws have not improved lives of persons with disabilities

Persons with disabilities account for 2.2 per cent of the Kenyan population. [iStockphoto]

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) was marked on December 3, 2023. It is one of the United Nations international days commemorated within the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

This year, the global community comes together to celebrate the achievements and resilience of persons with disabilities. This year's theme, "United in action to rescue and achieve the sustainable development goals for, with, and by PWDs," underscores the prominence of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and collaboration in realising the SDGs.

But is there any reason for persons with disabilities to rejoice in Kenya? How effective has been the Persons with Disabilities Act and the Constitution in ensuring equal opportunities and protection for PWDs?

According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, persons with disabilities account for 2.2 per cent, approximately 0.918 million of the population. This is a big group to be ignored. If we ignore the plight of PWDs, we ignore ourselves.

In Kenya, there is still a lot of ground to be covered before we can proudly take our place among nations that are PWD-friendly.

On the employment front, many counties and even the national government have not complied with the law that requires five per cent of jobs to be reserved for PWDs according to the Act of 2003.

According to the statistics from the Disability Mainstreaming Status Report for the Financial Year 2021/2022, less than one per cent of the institutions in Kenya have been able to meet the legal requirement of employing at least five per cent of persons with disabilities.

The report further shows that only 1.4 per cent of public service employees are persons with disabilities, revealing a significant gap between the current employment status of individuals with disabilities and the legal requirement of five per cent.

On the education front, many PWDs are struggling to access this basic human right, especially in rural areas, which have a higher prevalence rate by residence at 2.6 per cent (0.7 million) compared to 1.4 per cent (0.2 million) of people in urban areas.

It is paramount for the government and development partners to allocate resources for assistive technologies and provide specialised training for teachers to empower PWDs to thrive academically and contribute to society.

Kenya has one of the most unfavourable transport systems for the PWDs. Our roads and other infrastructure don’t favour pedestrians, especially PWDs. Data from the National Transport Safety Authority shows that one in every three people who die in road crashes is a pedestrian. The danger is greater if the person is in a wheelchair.

On any given day, they can be seen wheeling along busy roads side by side with speeding motorists and stubborn pedestrians. Those who are small-scale traders have turned their wheelchairs into small shops for their hustle beside the roads.

The government, in collaboration with the transport stakeholders, should devise ways to ensure this is changed across all modes of transport. In public transport, there should be seats reserved for PWDs.

Article 10 of the Constitution lists public participation as one of the national values and principles of governance. This has, however, been discriminatory in nature for a long time as it does not consider the different needs of PWDs to participate effectively.

Access to information is a major challenge as the materials are shared late and do not consider the unique needs of PWDs, not to mention that some of the venues for public participation are also not always PWD-friendly as they are inaccessible.

As we commemorate this international day, it is paramount for the government to reaffirm its commitments to inclusivity and allocate resources to the different policies and interventions aiding in the realisation of inclusivity. It is further a call for every individual to act from their areas of influence as inclusion is everyone’s role and responsibility.

The journey towards inclusivity requires a united front by all stakeholders – one that recognises the potential of every individual, regardless of ability, and actively works towards a future where no one is left behind.