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Economics of disabilities; what we’re not told

Saturday July 28 2018

People living with disability

Have we thought about the significant contribution in the economy made by people with disability as consumers, employers, assistive technology developers, mobility aid manufacturers and academics among others? PHOTO | FILE | FOTOSEARCH 

HARUN M. HASSAN
By HARUN M. HASSAN
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This last week, the UK government, in partnership with Kenya and the International Disability Alliance (IDA), co-hosted the first ever high level global disability summit in London. The aim of the meeting was to galvanise global efforts to address disability inclusion.

The summit brought together more than 700 delegates from governments, donors, private sector organisations, charities and organisations for persons with disabilities. Mr Ukur Yattani, the Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Protection led the Kenyan team.

DENIAL OF RIGHTS

Globally, one out of every seven people live with some form of disability, the majority in low and middle-income countries. In these settings, disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty because people with disabilities often face significant barriers that prevent them from participating fully in society, including accessing health services and attaining education and employment.

According to the World Health Organisation, about six million Kenyans are persons with disabilities. The Kenya National Survey for Pwds, 2008, says nearly 80 per cent of these six million people live in rural areas where they experience social and economic disadvantages and denial of rights. Their lives are made more difficult by the way society interprets and reacts to disability. In addition to these barriers, Kenya still lacks a policy that operationalises laws on disability. The National Disability Policy has remained as a draft since 2006!

MULTIPLIER EFFECT

But let us look at disability from different frames. Have we thought about the significant contribution in the economy made by people with disability as consumers, employers, assistive technology developers, mobility aid manufacturers and academics among others? According to Global Economics of Disability, 2016 report, the disability market is the next big consumer segment globally — with an estimated population of 1.3 billion. Disabled persons constitute an emerging market the size of China and controlling $1 trillion in annual disposable income.

Do people working directly in these industries pay taxes? Does anyone have an idea of the revenue — direct or indirect— collected by government from disability industries, organisations, import duty charges on assistive devices and other materials used by persons with disabilities? What of the multiplier effect of the sector; transporters, warehouses, and PWDs themselves who are active spenders and who pay both direct and indirect taxes.

SH40 BILLION

Just look at it this way; six million Kenyans (going by WHO’s estimate) are persons with disabilities and its assumed about two million of them are wheelchair users. The cheapest outdoor wheelchair fabricated locally is about Sh20,000, translating to a staggering Sh40 billion! Imagine the rest using crutches, hearing aides, white canes, braille services and costs of hiring personal assistance. Undoubtly, this is a huge market.

The contribution of people with disabilities far outweighs what is allocated to them through affirmative/charity considerations.

President Mwai Kibaki signed The Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003, in what turned out to be the most unprecedented disability legal framework in Kenya. The Act led to creation of a State agency called the National Council for Persons with Disability. During his second term in office (May 2008), Kenya ratified the United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

MEANINGFUL PARTICIPATION

One fact that most people have glossed over is the allocation given to the National Council for Persons with Disabilities, compared to the contribution made by PWDs to the social, political and economic spheres in the country. But then, in Kenya, studies to ascertain the actual contribution of disability as a sector have not been conducted.

We must change the narrative of disability for us not to leave out this vibrant community in development and other spheres of life. Disability must be viewed not as a burden but as a part of diversity, like any other. Disability is not about someone’s impairment but rather about a barrier – environment and attitudinal - in front of this person to freely and meaningfully participate in the society.

Harun M. Hassan is an author and social justice commentator. [email protected]

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