• This year’s theme is very optimistic as it focuses on post-Covid-19 recovery efforts concerning people with disabilities.
• Many opportunities for persons with disabilities have been lost during the pandemic.
On December 3, the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which has been celebrated since 1981.
This year’s theme is very optimistic as it focuses on post-Covid-19 recovery for persons with disabilities. It’s interesting the celebrations are being held at the same time as the Conference of States Parties, a rarity it is usually held in June.
Both the Cosp and the IPDP themes address the need for reflection on the gains made in the last 10 years [of the Constitution] while remaining optimistic about a post-pandemic recovery strategy.
It’s important to note that a lot of opportunities for persons with disabilities have been lost during the pandemic. Very few of them are able to access gainful employment in the formal sector.
In fact, of the estimated 4.2 million Kenyans with one form of disability or another (nine per cent of the population) only about 8,000 are in gainful employment based on statistics of those benefiting from tax exemption.
This is costing the government more than Sh360 million or roughly Sh4.3 billion annually, noting that one can be exempted from paying tax up to Sh45,000. This means that in the world of work, persons with disabilities are missing formal employment, as this translates to a very small fraction of the government’s total expenditure on the workforce.
But this problem is much deeper. Concerning school enrollment, there are about 180,000 pupils with disabilities within a population of eight million in all of our primary schools. This translates to a paltry 2.25 per cent of the number of pupils with disabilities.
There are obviously issues of identification and labelling, but this speaks to the sorry state of affairs in our public institutions. A report by the Kenya Institute of Special Education estimates that 2.4 million children with disabilities are missing school.
Of great concern are the special units of learners with disabilities that act as a dumping ground and day care centres for children with developmental disabilities such as autism, mental disabilities, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and other conditions.
Most of them are ill-equipped and they lack enough teachers and facilities to ensure meaningful learning.
In secondary schools, only a paltry 11,500 students are enrolled against a general student population of three million. This translates to 0.38 per cent.
This means, in general, that about 1.9 per cent of the students who may have managed reach to Class 8 don’t make it to high school.
Further, there are only 24 students with disabilities against a student population of about 500,000, translating to about 0.00048 per cent. This number is sourced from public and private universities.
Covid-19 has wiped out millions of jobs in Kenya and this means it has disproportionately affected persons with disabilities. It has been proven that whenever calamities occur, they affect the most vulnerable as compared the better off in more stable societies.
However, there is a silver lining as the world has become digital. Virtual work spaces are preferred because they require limited disruptions.
Potentially, this can really help those with mobility difficulties, since public transport remains one of the biggest barriers to workplace productivity and punctuality.
The figures are even more dismal when compared with other percentage parameters defining the human development index. It goes without saying a lot remains to be done 10 years later and 12 years since Kenya signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Many public buildings remain inaccessible to many persons with disabilities.
Negative attitudes, however, remain the biggest barrier to inclusion of persons with disability in the mainstream.
Of great concern is that the majority of Kenyans tend to be disabled as they grow older. However, very little is being done to ensure they lead a more comfortable life.
This is especially true in urban settings where the social stratification doesn’t allow for the traditional support mechanisms. Anonymity is ubiquitous in metropolises, big cities and urban centres.
It’s instructive to note though that the majority of persons living with disabilities (79 per cent) live in rural areas.
Despite the progress in 10 years and 14 years since the CRPD was adopted, we need to keep pushing the limits to ensure rights and freedoms to persons living with disabilities.
There’s something to celebrate, but a lot remains to be done.