The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) joins Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and the globe at large in observing the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD). The annual observance of the IDPWD was proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly under Resolution 47/3. The day seeks to promote the full and equal participation of PWDs and urge the Member States to take action for the inclusion of PWDs in all aspects of society and development. The 2020 IDPWD theme is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 World”.”
Globally, there are over one (1) billion PWDs. In Kenya, it is estimated that 2.2% (0.9 million people) live with some form of disability (Kenya Population and Housing Census, 2019). PWDs are among the most vulnerable populations in Kenya. They are more likely to suffer opportunistic infections, lack employment, lack adequate livelihood opportunities, live in precarious conditions, and normally are dependent on their families and community for their living.
While the COVID-19 pandemic exhibits general negative effects on all segments of the society, PWDs are much disproportionately affected. This is mainly due to attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the COVID-19 responses. Many PWDs have pre-existing health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus disease. They experience more severe symptoms upon infection, leading to elevated probabilities of death. Moreover, PWDs face multiple barriers to accessing health services and information.
The use of technology including online learning platforms, virtual conferencing, digital mobile money transfers, online shopping and online jobs, which has become the ‘new normal’ has also intensified the levels of inequalities in the society, particularly among PWDs. A majority of PWDs are unable to take advantage of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT), due to lack of adequate adjustments to serve the heterogeneous groups of PWDs, lack of adequate training and mere lack of access to ICT wares. Stigma and discrimination continue to hinder PWDs from equal participation in all aspects of development.
Article 11 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) stipulates that the Member States should take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of PWDs in situations of risk. Despite these provisions, there have been widespread reports of PWDs facing diverse challenges during times of natural calamities such as drought, flooding, disease outbreaks as well as during times of human-made emergencies including conflicts. Further, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set under Goal number 17, an ambitious target (number 17.18) for the Member States to routinely make available high quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by among other variables, disability. However, most countries today lack adequate information and data to inform strategies for developing disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 World.
To ensure that all social and economic post-COVID-19 recovery measures taken by governments do not actively discriminate or put an increased risk to PWDs, the Government needs to generate and share disaggregate data on the effects and impacts of COVID-19 on PWDs. An emphasis should be placed on generating data showing how PWDs have coped with the pandemic including their contributions to reducing the spread and impact of this pandemic.
Kenya has in the past two decades put in place legal and policy frameworks to progressively support poor and vulnerable populations, including PWDs. Article 21 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 presents the Government’s commitment to the realization of the rights of all Kenyans. Article 43 on Economic and Social Rights, explicitly guarantees the right to the highest standard of health care and services, education, accessible and adequate housing, food security, access to clean water, and social security with an emphasis on persons unable to support themselves or their dependents. Article 54 provide for the specific rights of PWDs. Article 7 (3)(b) recognizes sign language, braille and other communication accessible to PWDs as part of the official languages.
Kenya is a signatory to the UN Convention of the Rights 0f Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which reaffirms that person’s disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including social protection. Besides, Kenya has made tremendous progress in the development of policies to guide national and county governments in the formulation of strategic programs to advance social protection, economic empowerment, education, health care systems, and physical infrastructure that directly support PWDs. The Commission specifically appreciates the government’s response to PWDs affected by COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, the provision of direct cash transfers to more than 33,000 PWDs who are not in any form of social protection program since May 2020 is remarkable.
As we mark this day, we acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential of affecting the mental health of many vulnerable Kenyans. Poor mental health is a key driver for disability. The Commission applauds the Ministry of Health for prioritizing mental health services and psychosocial support since the emergency of COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend that mental health-related services be fully integrated with health service delivery for patients in quarantine and isolation centers, to front line health -care workers offering COVID-19 services and to high risk and vulnerable population especially PWDs affected by COVID-19.
There is no doubt that Kenya is currently experiencing a severe wave of the spread of COVID-19. We anticipate the effects and impacts of this pandemic shall remain disproportionately harsh amongst most vulnerable groups including women with disabilities, older members of societies with disabilities, children with disabilities, PWDs living in the informal and unplanned settlements, and PWDs without any form of income or social protection. It is important, therefore, that the National and County Governments plan, finance and execute innovative programs that directly protect the vulnerable PWDs from extreme consequences of COVID-19. These include post-COVID-19 recovery plans. Increased reach and coverage of PWDs with cash transfers especially during times of COVID-19 are critical. Further, PWDs should be involved and extensively consulted in the design and execution of such interventions. They too have contributions to make. This will help manage and build emotional resilience while ensuring that PWDs get the right support, at the right time and in the right settings.
The Commission further implores on the Government to continue ensuring a barrier-free environment for PWDs. This includes ensuring that the physical environment is more accessible to PWDs and that public information is provided in a variety of formats to reach even the print-blind persons. Besides, the Commission underscores the importance of challenging attitudes and assumptions about PWDs. The Commission notes that there is need for the development of an attitudinal change behavioural communications program targeting different segments of the population including children, youth, transport sector, public service to inculcate a culture of tolerance for the inclusion of disability. Such a program will reverse attitudes held by the general population about PWDs and promote greater acceptance of their roles and responsibilities in the society.
The Commission commends the Ministry of Health for complying with its’ advisory on inclusive communications by incorporating captions and sign language for all live and recorded events including national addresses, press briefings and live social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage the Ministry to continue working with disability organizations, including advocacy bodies and disability service providers to disseminate public health information.
The National Gender and Equality Commission remains committed to protecting rights of PWDs, promoting their freedom from discrimination, and holding duty bearers to account for measures put in place to improve the wellbeing of PWDs. We believe that all PWDs and organizations that represent them equally have a responsibility of claiming their rights. We call upon everyone to join hands and work together to ensure ‘a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 Kenya.
Dr. Joyce M. Mutinda (PhD)