Ending Poverty for Youth Persons with Disabilities in Kenya

By Dennis Mugambi and Catherine Mutuku

There is no accurate data on the number of young people with disabilities under extreme poverty in Kenya. However, evidence shows that youth with disabilities are the most marginalized and poor in the world. The United Nations estimates that there are about 180 and 220 million youth with disabilities world-wide, with approximately 80 per cent living in developing countries. Further, global data from the World Health Survey, according to World Bank 2011, indicates that employment rates are lower for men with disabilities (53%) and women with disabilities (20%) compared to men without disabilities (65%) and women (30%). Disability increases vulnerability of the youth to poverty while poverty increases vulnerability to disability. However, there is a strong intersection between disability and poverty, which leads to dynamic and multifaceted phenomenon that is difficult to measure. According to Sophie Mitra (2011), the onset of disability may lead to lower living standards and poverty through adverse impact on education, employment, earnings, and increased expenditures related to disability. This leads to persons with disabilities and households with a person with disability experiencing higher rates of insufficiencies, which include food insecurity, poor housing, lack of access to safe water and sanitation, and inadequate access to health care and fewer assets compared to persons without disability. In the wake of global economic integration and development, to achieve the long-lasting prospects envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond, there is need to have inclusion of persons with disability in economic activities that sustainably contribute to economic development.

Several policy frameworks provide for inclusion of PWDs in productive economic activities as reflected in Table 1. However, the institutional framework to monitor the implementation is weak. For example, Kenya is yet to meet the 5 per cent constitutional provision on appointive and elective positions in private and public entities for PWDs. Majority of these entities do not have the required facilities for PWDs to be adequately accommodated at the place of work. Further, available jobs for youth with disabilities tend to be low skilled (World Bank, 2011). This may be explained by the fact that PWDs in Kenya are exposed to very limited skills development and knowledge and, therefore, lack the necessary required technical skills. Studies have shown that people with disabilities can be as productive, dependable, and less absent from work compared to workers without disabilities. One of the greatest challenges though is lack of comprehensive data on PWDs for analysis to guide policy direction.

Table 1: Policy and regulatory frameworks related to PWDs and employment
1Public Officers’ Ethics Act, 2003Creates an environment that nurtures respect for diversity, including disability
2Employment Act, 2007 Recognizes disability and outlaws discrimination on grounds of disability in employment, both in public and private sectors
3Kenya Vision 2030Provides a long-term development framework and initiatives aimed at sustaining rapid economic growth and tackling poverty. Kenya hopes to become a globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life by 2030
4Draft Equity Bill, 2000Aims to combat discrimination faced by various groups including people with disabilities. The Bill also prohibits employers from paying employees differently for work of equal value
5National Security Act (Chapter 258, Laws of Kenya)Mentions invalidity benefits for worker incapacitated before the established retirement age
6National Social Security Fund Act, 1965 (No. 5 of 1997)Amended 2001, contains a provision which states that physical and mental disabilities shall not be considered as leading to work incapacity
7Workmen’s Compensation Act (Chapter 236, Laws of Kenya)Recognizes disability but only where it has been acquired during and in the course of work
8Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003A comprehensive law covering rights, rehabilitation and equal opportunities for people with disabilities
9National Development Plan (2002-2008)Focused on strengthening vocational rehabilitation centres for people with mental and physical disabilities and affirmative action in areas of employment, vocational training and education
10Article 27 of the Convention on Rights for Persons with Disability, 2006Addresses employment concerns by stipulating that people with disabilities have the right to work as everyone else in an open, inclusive, and accessible labour market, without discrimination, and with access to reasonable accommodation in the workplace

Previously, several policy recommendations have been given by education commissions and committees to aid in the improvement of education for youth persons with disability. However, these recommendations rarely make their way to implementation due to lack of proper policy guidance and monitoring. The existing gaps in terms of action can be adequately addressed by harmonizing all the policy documents related to provision of an inclusive education system targeting the wholistic inclusion of PWDs. The UNESCO report on Youth with Disabilities (August 2010-2011) estimates that 98 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school and 99 per cent of girls with disabilities are illiterate.

In Kenya, despite the elaborate policy framework as reported in Table 2, many children with disabilities do not have access to quality education because they face challenges such as lack of financial support, stigmatization and discrimination, lack of awareness, lack of facilities, materials and far distance from home to school. The gender policy in education report in 2007 shows that 57 per cent of male PWDs are likely to access education compared to female in Kenya. Most parents of PWDs are poor compared to parents without PWDs. Partly because of the parental own views and perceptions that there are no direct gains or benefits in educating children with disabilities, resources are channeled into other use. Lack of financial resources for parents of children with disabilities means that they are constrained in supporting their children get the necessary technical skills and knowledge (World Health Organization, World Bank, 2011).

This is further compounded by limited availability of special education schools in the country. Some research shows that the registered and known special schools are less than 100 nationally, thus not all the learners with various special needs are accommodated into such special schools, and the financial resources are inadequate to equip them adequately. Further, the distance covered from home to such schools discourages some of the learners with disabilities from participating in education. More importantly, Early Child Development Education for special needs learners is constrained by limited skills in sign language, and effective use of braille machines. In addition, monitoring of persons with Autism impairment to assist them out of their symptoms of abnormality is limited. Among the PWDs, the male gender has better access to government learning institutions compared to female gender.

Table2: Policy and regulatory frameworks related to PWDs and education
1Children Act, 2001Declared that children with disabilities have the right to education and if the parent denies them of that right, they are guilty of a crime. This is cruel to the child, and the parent who does this is guilty of neglect.
2National Special Needs Education Policy Framework Section 3Children with special needs have the right to have their disability accommodated for in their education.  For example, a child who is deaf has the right to learn sign language and attend a school that is taught in sign language
3Draft Special Needs Education PolicyProvides a roadmap for the education of children with disabilities
4Free Primary Education 2003Crucial to the attainment of universal primary education; removes all levies that previously prevented children with disabilities from poor economic backgrounds from accessing special education to meet the needs of children with disabilities in school
5PWDs Act No.14 of 2003, 18Provides a comprehensive legal framework which outlaws all forms of discriminative treatment of persons with special needs and disabilities. This includes, among others, access to education and training. It provides for adaptation of infrastructural, socio-economic and environmental facilities to ensure a conducive environment for persons with special needs and disabilities
6Constitution of Kenya 2010, Article 54Provides that persons with disability have a right to access educational institutions and facilities that are integrated into society to the extent compatible with their interests and needs
7Special Needs Education Policy, 2009Enhances access, transition rates and retention of learners with special needs in formal learning institutions
8Basic Education Act (2013), Article 46Identifies that special educational needs of a child are critical to facilitating provision of relevant support to enable the child to participate fully in quality learning in an inclusive setting
The presidential bursary scheme has allocated resources for orphan, vulnerable and PWDs that ensures children with PWDs go to school
The National Councils for Persons with Disabilities has implemented education assistance that provides for assistance to students with disabilities in forms of scholarship, and fee subsidies in public and private institutions
9Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2005Sets out clear policy guidelines for all education sub-sectors, including SNE and further underscores the government’s commitment to ensuring that learners with special needs and disabilities have equal access to quality and relevant education
10The Gender Policy in Education, 2007This policy states in part that to increase participation, retention and completion for learners with special needs and disabilities, the government should provide an enabling (legal and policy) environment. This should be done through flexing curriculum, providing trained personnel, equipment and facilities and ensuring accommodative physical infrastructure for learners with special needs and disabilities. There is also need to create public awareness on causes of special needs and disabilities, especially in rural areas. Coordination of early intervention and assessment of children with special needs and disabilities should be reinforced. 

Article 27(4) of the Kenya Constitution 2010 outlaws discrimination on the grounds of disability. It provides that a person with disability shall be entitled to treatment with respect and dignity, access educational institutions and facilities, have reasonable access to all places, public transport and information, and access materials and devices including for communication. Further, the National ICT Policy of 2016 outlines, under Article 13, strategies for an accessible ICT environment in the country to enable persons with disabilities to take full advantage of ICTs. 

Africa and the global community are fast getting digitalized and economic development today is pegged on technological advancement. However, the more the globe is getting digitalized, the further the divide as PWDs are being left out. The debate about internet governance and the inclusiveness of the information society have not prominently featured the needs of persons with disabilities. Many youth with disabilities have challenges with ICT, especially access to applications such as screen reader, speech recognition, video communication and visual assistance. This hinders their full participation in a society. To a large extent, the challenge of PWDs in using ICT devices are linked to lack of awareness and training support.

Kenya has 51 over million mobile subscriptions with 46.8 million internet subscriptions. However, some segments of the country cannot afford to use ICT, and those in rural areas, poor and uneducated women, and many persons with disabilities lack access to ICT. ICT has the potential to revolutionize the environment for doing business for youth with disabilities by making it easier to engage in self-employment from the comfort of one’s home.

To support the youth with disability to engage in productive economic activity, in reducing their vulnerability to poverty, the following is recommended: 

To enhance participation in the job market:

  1. Prepare a National Disability policy on vocational rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons in Kenya to ensure they are equipped adequately for the market.
  2. Encourage youth persons with disabilities attend vocational centres for training in such areas as tailoring, knitting, agriculture, costume jewellery, metal work, textile technology and carpentry. These courses will help them acquire skills necessary to engage in productive employment.
  3. Strengthen the monitoring framework to ensure that employers comply with the existing policies, including meeting the 5 per cent threshold stipulated in the Constitution for employment of PWDs. 
  4. The government to ensure youth persons with disabilities are facilitated with accessible and safe buildings to enhance their mobility; sign language interpreters and aide for persons with visual impairment.
  5. The National Council for Person with Disabilities (NCPWD) to ensure that in employment for youth persons with disabilities, there is fair competition for the available opportunities.
  6. Create awareness on the opportunities for business enterprises under AGPO.

With regard to the education system:

  1. There is need to strengthen the integrated schooling system to accommodate both students without disability and youth persons with disabilities. This will not only ensure the national values on creating a cohesive and integrated society is met, but also help to eliminate stereotyping among students and in the society at large.
  2. The government to adequately equip schools by supplying persons with physical impairment with crutches and wheelchairs to support their mobility; providing braille machines to quicken the reading capabilities of persons with visually impairment; supplying hearing aids to assist persons with hearing impairment to at least tap some sounds and interpret the meaning and any other necessary reading and support materials such as diapers, sanitary towels, etc to make all youth persons with disabilities comfortable.
  3. Encourage free guiding and counselling services so that it boosts the percentage of youth persons with disabilities in schools and other vocational training centres; and reduce school dropout among youth persons with disabilities.
  4. There is need to incorporate digital learning for children with disabilities to access education in Kenya. 

In exploiting the potential of ICT in creating an enabling environment for youth with disabilities:

  1. Improve access to information and emerging technology for youth with disabilities.
  2. Put incentives to providers of accessible technology solutions including software, hardware and applications, and those creating applications that are user-friendly to youth persons with disabilities.
  3. Ensure that schools build capacity for youth persons with disabilities in use of ICT, training on how to harness ICT for personal and economic development.
  4. The government can also ensure provision of more digitalized aide such as computerized wheelchairs, digitalized guide, and hearing aids that are up to date with the latest technology.

One reply on “Ending Poverty for Youth Persons with Disabilities in Kenya”

There are fewer special schools in kenya, less than 100. I suppose we put much effort in inclusion, we enable our school to focus on mainstreaming, this way we shall be able to reduce stigmatisation and empower PWDs with social attributes.

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