The disabled pitch their case over continued relegation
Story by CAROLINE WAFULA
Publication Date: 4/18/2008
|Poverty, exclusion from decision making forums and general inequality in society are some of the key issues that affect disabled people more than any other group in society.
People with disabilities have pointed out in various forums that they are twice more likely to live in absolute poverty than able-bodied people.
It has further been noted that disabled people experience oppression, discrimination and violation of basic human rights on a daily basis.
Most disabled people, regardless of their age and gender, are prevented from making decisions that affect their daily lives, according to crusaders of disability rights.
With the formation of the grand coalition Government, the disabled in the country are in for another round of exclusion from key decision making level since none of their own was appointed to serve in the Cabinet.
This is because none of them was elected to the 10th Parliament or nominated by any political party, despite pressure from the fraternity.
It was the same case with party nominations, according to Mr Phitalis Were of Leonard Cheshire International. He says many candidates with disabilities offered themselves and worked tenaciously towards being elected as MPs and councillors but due to “shambolic and unjust nomination exercises”, as well as resource constraints, their effort became stillborn.
With the unveiling of the grand coalition Government, they were hoping that an office of the Status of Persons with Disabilities under the Office of the President or that of the Prime Minister would be included.
Such an office, which they had proposed, was to comprehensively deal with issues of persons with disabilities.
The fraternity of people with disabilities, led by Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) commissioner Lawrence Mute, says it would have been more appropriate to create such an office in the Prime Minister’s office since the premier will coordinate and supervise Government departments and ministries.
Under the new Government structure, disability issues are handled through the ministries of Gender and Children Affairs and Youth and Sports.
But according to disability rights crusaders, under the relevant ministry, the disabled receive relative negligible attention and disability remains a poor cousin of apparently more important matters such as sports and gender.
“Disability entails multi-dimensional and cross-cutting agenda that cannot be pigeonholed in a single ministry,” Mr Mute stated on behalf of the group.
This measure, he argued, would give disability in Kenya much needed visibility, resources and political goodwill. It will also enhance monitoring and reporting across all Government ministries and departments.
Alongside a full fledged disability office, those with disabilities want the Government to appoint a disability adviser to provide technical advice to the Government.
They cite South Africa, Senegal and Namibia as some of the countries the model operates well.
Another expectation of the disabled fraternity is that the new grand coalition Government will ensure that persons with disabilities are employed in governance positions.
They state that people with disabilities should have effective participation and representation in planning and decision-making organs.
They want persons with disabilities to be appointed in senior public positions like permanent secretaries, constitutional offices (including the Judiciary), the diplomatic service, parastatals and to review/reform committees.
The group reiterates the need for all these players to ensure that the development needs of Kenyans with disabilities are at the heart of national policy priorities.
“As Kenyans with disabilities, we have for far too long been forced to remain on the periphery of this country’s policy and legislation making processes,” says Mr Samuel Kabue of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (Edan). “Even where policy or legislation has recognised our needs, its implementation has been patchy and half-hearted,” he added.
The overall consequences of this status quo, according to the group, have included the continuation of exclusion occasioned by their physical, sensory or intellectual impairments.
“This marginalisation has also encouraged society to heighten discrimination against us in the classroom, the workplace, the hospital and the family setting too,” Mr Kabue says.
The Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003, has been in place for almost five years, yet little progress with regards to implementing and enforcing it has been made.
Mr Timothy Wanyonyi of the Kenya Paraplegic Organisation says members of the grand coalition Government (ODM, PNU and ODM Kenya) should therefore stay true to their election promises and act decisively to enable the rights and development needs of over three million disabled Kenyans.
Policymakers and implementers should as well prioritise disability rights in public policy, legislative and administrative matters, he states.
The group proposes several steps, which they say should be taken urgently both by the grand coalition Government as well as by other public actors.
The fraternity wants full implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act and calls on the new Government to gazette all sections of the Persons with Disabilities Act which as yet remain inoperable. They include Section 22 of the Act which requires proprietors of public buildings to adapt them to suit persons with disabilities, Section 23 which provides that operators of public service vehicles shall adapt it to suit persons with disabilities and Section 39 which requires all television stations to provide a sign language inset or sub-titles in all news casts and educational programmes, and in all programmes covering events of national significance.
The fraternity also wants the Government to finalise and the development of the National Disability Policy which has remained in draft form for the last couple of years and have Parliament pass it in the course of this year.
It is now one year since the Government signed the convention which aims to enable the better protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities.
“The grand coalition Government should this year ratify the convention. It should also review all legislation covering disability issues so that domestication of the convention may happen,” Mr Kabue says.
Special interests can be best articulated by those directly affected and so inclusive policies and legislation will only be implemented if persons with disabilities are involved, according to the disability rights crusaders.
In this regard, they state that both public and private employers should be required or encouraged to employ persons with disabilities in their establishments. The guiding standard in the Persons with Disabilities Act is where at least five per cent of employees are disabled.
To all the people with disabilities, however, the constitutional review process holds the key to the solutions to the myriad of problems affecting them.
They urged the Government to finalise review of the Constitution in one year.
The group says the Bomas of Kenya Draft Constitution captured a lot of their concerns and desires “particularly to the extent that it included specific articles on our rights as persons with disabilities”.
They say the review must, therefore, ensure that the Bomas of Kenya gains are retained and that other provisions are included to ensure that persons with disabilities have effective representation in national as well as local governance structures, says the fraternity.