Rights of peopl living with disabilities during covid-19 in Kenya
A wheelchair user unable to wash his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic because a public sink was erected to a height that is beyond his reach increases the risk of infection. [ Photo / human rights watch ]

When the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sent millions of Kenyans into lockdown, the government allocated KSh10 billion to the youth, elderly and persons with disabilities (PWDs) to cushion them from its adverse economic impact.

However, research commissioned by Ulemavu Research Institute revealed that despite the National Treasury allocating additional funds to the existing cash transfer programme,52% of PWDs were unable to meet their basic needs. This is because only 6.63% of the PWDs reported having benefited from the cash transfer programme.

In many countries, the governments roll out different interventions with a purpose to respect, promote and protect the dignity and the rights of its citizens. Among these rights include the right to life, health, education, adequate standards of living and social protection, as espoused under Article 43 of our Constitution.

Government is also guided by statistics to plan for its citizens. By establishing the number of people living in a country, the leaders can equitably allocate funds/resources to communities and develop different interventions to suit the needs of its citizens.

With respect to PWDs, the World Health Organization estimates that 15% of the global population comprises PWDs 80% of whom reside in developing countries. According to the 2019 census report, there are 900,000 (2.2%) PWDs in Kenya.

This is a sharp drop of disability prevalence from 3.5% reported in the 2009 census. The failure in collecting quality and accurate disability statistics can exclude thousands of PWDs from government plans.

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Besides difficulties in obtaining accurate statistics on PWDs, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which forms part of Kenyan law by dint of Article 2(6) of the Constitution, affirms the dignity and human rights of PWDs. It doesn’t create new rights but Article 1 clearly states that PWDs have equal access and a right to full and effective enjoyment of all human rights.

 Domestic legislations must be consistent with the CRPD. This gives impetus to the development ofdisability-inclusive interventions which benefit PWDs. Interventions are developed in all sectors including health, education, employment, transport etc.

 Some of thepractical strategiesthat the government should employ to achieve disability-inclusive interventions include raising awareness to change negative attitudes that fuel stigma and discrimination towards PWDs, in turn hindering them from participating in society on an equal basis as others. The existence of disability laws and policies is void if individuals discriminate against PWDs.

How will laws, policies or programmes be implemented by individuals who stigmatize PWDs?

PWDS should be actively and meaningfully engaged in all matters of nation-building, policymaking, designing, testing, implementing and evaluating programmes. The mantra ‘nothing about us, without us’ is premised on the notion that the government should provide services with PWDs rather than for them.

Participation needs to involve all impairment groups to ensure inclusion of most marginalized groups of PWDs, such as persons with psychosocial disabilities.

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Best practices for disability-inclusive interventions call for a human rights-based approach which ensures eradication of barriers. Programs are informed by international, regional and national human rights instruments.

 All persons have a right to full potential even when resources are scarce.This is contrary to the needs-based approach where some people are excluded because of scarce resources.

Third is ensuring comprehensive accessibility of interventions. This ensures physical, communication, policy and attitudinal barriers are identified and addressed. If a service or programme is inaccessible to PWDs, then obviously they are excluded.

The policy of one-size-fits-all isn’t viable, because every disability is unique, and even those with similar disabilities may express different needs

Take, for example, a wheelchair user who is unable to wash his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, simply because a public washing area or sink was erected to a height that is beyond his reach. This increases his risk of contracting the virus as compared to others who can access the sink.

However, it is important to remember that access by, and inclusion of PWDs, are not the same thing. Each requires a different strategy. Sometimes, the provision of ramps is felt to be all that is needed for disability inclusion, when in fact it just enables access for people with physical impairments.

Evaluating effectiveness

Policymakers should also apply participatory research methodologies. This will ensure researchers and PWDs work together towards generating evidence to aid in designing programmes that are disability friendly and specific to the needs of PWDs.

 The policy of one size-fits-all isn’t viable, because every disability is unique, and even those with similar disabilities may express different needs, which must be supported.

Lastly, measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions should be followed by publishing the information to help others implement effective interventions. Importantly, duty-bearers implementing these interventions should be held to account. The government must have PWDs in mind during planning and programming. This is the only way that PWDs stand a chance to enjoy their government’s efforts.

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About the Author

The writer is a lawyer and Chief Operations Officer at Ulemavu Research Institute. Email: [email protected]

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