Life & Work

How we navigate our careers despite disability

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Senior Probation Officer and Football player for Kenya Women Amputee team Caren Musungu during an interview at Decathlon Store in Two Rivers Mall on December 5, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Many Kenyan workers are living with disabilities and thriving. However, inclusivity remains a bone of contention in many industries.

While there is still room for improvement, Caren Musungu, a senior probation officer, stands as a beacon of hope. She celebrates her workplace, where her boss's commitment to inclusivity has helped her not just survive, but thrive.

Ms Musungu is among the many Kenyans living with disabilities after her right leg was amputated. Though she uses prosthetics and crutches for mobility, her employer and colleagues have played a pivotal role in ensuring she receives the support she deserves.

"My employer has included me in conversations. I feel part of my workplace community in terms of accessibility and safety. My disability is physical, and I'm limited in terms of movement and carrying out heavy duties. So, the duties my supervisor is unsure of, he seeks my input," she says.

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Senior Probation Officer and Football player for Kenya Women Amputee team Caren Musungu during an interview at Decathlon Store in Two Rivers Mall on December 5, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Additionally, in the event she is nursing an injury, Ms Musungu says that her boss allows her to either work from home, take on lighter duties, or have some time off, depending on the magnitude.

"Sometimes the prosthetic applies pressure on my leg, affecting my walking completely. During times like these, my doctor advises I switch to my crutches and avoid intensive work, which involves lots of walking," she explains.

Healthy work environment

Her colleagues have also cultivated a healthy work environment for Ms Musungu, who terms them as 'very understanding.'

"They ensure I am comfortable to perform my duties and responsibilities and are quick to lend a hand when need be," she adds.

In her part-time job, Ms Musungu works at a French sporting goods retailer and shares that being employed there is a plus for other people with disabilities.

"A person using crutches or a prosthetic can visit the sports house and easily identifies with me. Not many people know that disabled persons play sports, or if they are making equipment, it is not accommodative to such."

The lover and player of football, who recently joined the Kenya Women Amputee Football, says that the community has made her realise that "you cannot do it alone."

"My win is our win. How I pass the ball determines whether we will score a goal or not. On my own, I cannot do it, but together we can," she adds.

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Senior Probation Officer and Football player for Kenya Women Amputee team Caren Musungu during an interview at Decathlon Store in Two Rivers Mall on December 5, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

As the world marked International Disability Day on December 3, inclusivity remains a bone of contention in almost all aspects of life.

How disabled people navigate the workplace is different from how the average fully abled people do, largely because of pervasive ableism.

On her part, Nelly Mbatha, who plays wheelchair para-badminton and swimming, acknowledges that her coaches and mother have been instrumental in supporting her career goal.

Ms Mbatha, who was diagnosed with spinal bifida when she was a year and eight months old, explains that while it is not easy for disabled people to secure a job, talent is her avenue.

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Para-Badminton player Nelly Mbatha during an interview at Decathlon Store in Two Rivers Mall on December 5, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

Support system

"My mother is my first support system. She has been my backbone. Whatever I need, she goes as far as she can for me to get it. Secondly, I have very supportive coaches who not only guide but encourage me when the going gets tough," she says.

When preparing for competitions, Ms Mbatha notes that it is sometimes very difficult to get to the training grounds, especially when it is raining.

"I use a motorbike from home to the grounds, and on the days that the rain is pouring, I have to stay at home. Also, we have fewer wheelchairs for training and take turns after two hours."

Like any other athlete, Ms Mbatha is guided by discipline and hard work. She admits that training is mandatory unless she is not feeling well and has to update her coach.

At her workplace at Decathlon, Ms Mbatha shares that communication with her colleagues has enabled a smooth experience for her.

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Para-Badminton player Nelly Mbatha during an interview at Decathlon Store in Two Rivers Mall on December 5, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

"If there is something I cannot do on my own, I'm free to ask for help. Before we open the shop, we meet and discuss. If there is something that I need to share about myself, I do it before, and if they know, they assist. Here, unity is power."

Accessibility barriers

Despite her success in the sporting world, Ms Mbatha confronts barriers in accessing basic public amenities like transport, buildings, and restrooms. To combat these obstacles, she advocates for a broader understanding and acceptance of the needs of disabled persons.

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