The past three months have given society an opportunity to reflect on life and all its facets. Many things that we had previously taken for granted have been challenged. This past week I was having a phone conversation with someone who works in Geneva, Switzerland. The focus of our discussions revolved around the link between human rights and the environment. However, we spent a few minutes on the changed circumstances that Ccovid-19 has brought to our lives. We ended that discussion with the agreement that in the new condition one gets to appreciate a lot of the things that we took for granted.
The above context should help us address something that we do not pay as much attention to like we should. This relates to the plight of people with disabilities in society. Statistics indicate that globally between 15 to 20 percent of the world's population experience some form of disability.
This would bring them within the purview of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention makes provision to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities by guaranteeing their dignity and preventing them from discrimination. Detailed commitments are made by countries that are party to the convention. Kenya became a state party in 2018 obligating it to adhere to the prerequisites of the Convention. In addition, Article 55 of the Constitution guarantees that the country shall treat all persons with disability with respect and dignity.
A few weeks ago, the challenges that some beggars face in Nairobi during the Covid-19 curfew period was reported by the media. One of the people covered was a person with disability who, in addition to difficulty of meeting the requirements of wearing a mask and frequent washing of hands, had to struggle to travel to their place of "work" and back in time before the curfew.
Their plight drew my attention to what practical measures are being implemented to ensure that inclusion of persons with disabilities is a reality.
Inclusion requires that deliberate action be taken to address the specific needs of these categories of members of society so that they can be able to enjoy the same benefits as all others. This is not about pity or tokenism but realising that there are certain structural and societal barriers they face that should be eliminated.
What is worse is to find government offices situated on the second or higher floors of buildings without any lifts or ramps. No thought is put into the question of how persons with disabilities, who require services from such offices can ever have their issues dealt with if those they should be engaging with are out of their reach. One may argue that it is possible to reach such offices through alternative means, for example by use of technology. The reality though is that until the current health pandemic forced many institutions to transit to enhanced service delivery through online platforms, majority of services required physical and phase to phase engagement.
In addition, online platforms too require consideration of the needs of persons with disabilities, through the design of websites and choice of platforms and through availability of some assistive devices. These are largely not in place. Next is the practice of ensuring that communication is accommodative and responsive to persons with disabilities.
Many people who attend workshops and conferences take it for granted that they need PowerPoint presentations to guide their inputs into the meetings where they are invited as resource people. Secondly, there are the requirements that there be sign language interpreters in all public meetings. However, a cursory review of many public meetings will reveal that this requirement is rarely observed. Braille is rarely available in many public institutions.
It is important that we move from the token conversation of assessing whether persons with disabilities access five percent of procurement opportunities for goods and services. Important as this is, inclusion is more than just access to business opportunities. It requires a change of attitude, true commitment and focus on reasonable accommodation in all facets of life so that persons with disabilities cane enjoy the same rights and opportunities that other members of society do get currently.