Fold the needs of people with disabilities into Uhuru’s ‘Big Four’ agenda

Friday April 20 2018

A couple of years ago a young man went for a driving test with the Kenya police traffic department in Karen. He was born with two fingers on one hand. He passed the test, but in the opinion of the presiding officer he was not to get a licence because “huna vidole ya kutosha”. Luckily in this instance someone intervened, of course after an episode of drama and yelling.

One can argue that this is a reflection of the poor quality of police recruitment and professional training. But I beg to differ. This is a reflection of our society and how it treats those we think are differently abled from us “normal” members of society. People with special needs or who are differently bodied are disadvantaged and highly vulnerable.

Kenyans recently watched in disbelief as children with special needs were used by unscrupulous individuals to make money, by transporting them to the city centre to beg all day in inhuman conditions. The fact that some of this individuals were alleged to be nationals of Tanzania may be an indication that the situation “next door” is no better for these members of society.


No human being should have to explain to another, especially the so-called able-bodied, the state of their physical or mental inability unless it is to a professional. Disabilities or special needs may arise from birth, the intervention of a medical condition or a tragic accident. It is rarely by choice.

The international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has defined them as those “who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”. The barriers referred to herein are in most cases those of a human nature. It is these areas that need legal and policy framework interventions to enable a more inclusive society that respects and gives thoughts to those with special needs.


Part three, clause 54 of the 2010 Constitution has specified the application of rights for people with disabilities. It has been translated to an Act of Parliament that has created the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, but like many good things in this Constitution, the application of this law seems to start and end with inclusion in the political arena and in the government tendering processes.


In reality it should start with primary healthcare and education. The government caters for immunisation of children; it should give special diagnostic and curative care for children with special needs. The much-talked-about “Big Four” government agenda includes affordable healthcare. How about making it free and express under NHIF for people with special needs without discrimination. How can anything else be guaranteed if they are not healthy in the first place?

Parents and other caregivers of these children face special challenges that must be recognised and efforts made to cushion them. We have read all sorts of proponents and counter-suggestions to the development of the “new” curriculum. But hardly anyone mentions the needs of these children. How then does the government hope to implement the inclusion of at least five per cent into leadership, if they have no access to education first? According to the Kenya National Special Needs Education Survey, a majority of out-of-school children in Kenya are those with disabilities.

Children with special needs must be integrated into the mainstream school curriculum. Their parents have to pay exorbitant fees in private institutions for them to get basic education. It is alright where parents can afford such a choice, but according to the report on disability, a good percentage of this children live in rural areas where such facilities are not available and or their parents cannot afford to pay for them. So aside from not guaranteeing them health and education, Kenya has created a system that predisposes them to a life of poverty.


Many institutions caring for these children are run by church-affiliated organisations. They are doing something and doing the best they can, but it is heartbreaking to see a child who has full mental capacity put in the same learning environment with a child who has developmental disabilities, just because they are physically challenged and vice versa. Locking these children out of mainstream schooling also creates a certain worldview for them that is highly guided and limited to special needs.

The capacity of trainers for these children is also a challenge. But pretending that they are not part of the challenges facing education and healthcare does nothing to help more people make career choices in that direction.

Kenya is not doing enough to protect children with disabilities from discrimination, inhumane treatment and neglect. Mainstreaming their needs along with those of women and children into the national agenda and the “Big Four” may help.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa