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Investing in learners living with disabilities is a right, not a favour

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Sammy Kamande at the Kenya Community Centre for Learning (KCCL) at Roysambu in Nairobi reads a book with his teacher Winnie Ngala. KCCL is a school that caters for Children with learning disabilities. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

Every December 3, the world celebrates the International Day of Disabled Persons.

The global theme for this year’s celebrations is “Transformative Solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world.”

The focus is on what innovations we can make to enhance accessibility and equity for persons with disabilities.

I participated in a day-long event at the University of Nairobi. The focus of the university-hosted event was increased participation and strategies to accelerate the realisation of the 5.0 per cent quota for persons with disabilities in employment opportunities.

Being the second year in a row that the university was celebrating the event, it provided us with an opportunity to reflect on the strides we continue to make in inclusion in higher education.

READ: Advance inclusion of persons with disability

This is especially important owing to the provisions of Article 54 of the Constitution on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Access to education is captured as one of the essential ingredients of fundamental rights.

The reason for this is simple; it is education that will enable persons with disabilities to enjoy equity in society. As one participant at the event noted, disability is expensive but investing in the education of PWDs is the sure bet to dealing with the high cost.

It is important, therefore, that we think about our learners with disabilities throughout the education spectrum. Focusing on the barriers that hinder their equal and meaningful access to and participation in education is urgent and mandatory.

The Constitution guarantees them and all other learners a fundamental right to education. It goes further to make basic education compulsory and free.

The big question though is whether in practice these learners have the same opportunities as their abled counterparts.

Most learners with disabilities require one form of assistive device or the other. The cost of these devices is extremely prohibitive. As one university student indicated, the cost of a Braille Note Taker is around Sh1 million.

For those from poor backgrounds, this cost makes education inaccessible.

Without deliberate strategies to make these devices available to such learners, most of them struggle through the education system, do not get the same level of access and quality and sometimes even end up dropping out.

The second is curriculum design and delivery. Inclusivity requires that in designing curriculum at the basic education and tertiary level we consider the particular needs of learners with disabilities.

Adapting the curriculum to their particular needs is imperative. In addition, curriculum, especially for universities and TVETs, must expressly capture issues of disability.

We have to move away from the thinking that some courses cannot be pursued by learners with disabilities. In the past few weeks, I have visited several institutions for learners with disabilities.

ALSO READ: Disabled children to attend regular schools 

What stood out for me most were the levels of innovation by those learners, something that we must nurture and enhance as a country through deliberate policy.

The writer is a law professor at the University of Nairobi's School of Law.