By AUGUSTINE SANG
The Labour ministry is pushing for the establishment of a technology hub to produce assistive devices for the disabled.
Labour CS Ukur Yatani says the disabled need to be considered when embracing modern technology to help empower them.
Mr Yatani made the remarks in London ahead of Tuesday’s Global Disability Summit scheduled to take place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.
“We use a lot of money to buy assistive devices for [the disabled] and we want to reverse this. We cannot lag behind in using technology to empower them,” said the CS in a statement.
He said the government is seeking the support from stakeholders, especially the private sector, to put up the technology centre.
The summit is co-hosted by the Kenyan and UK governments.
It is the first ever global summit whose aim is to highlight successes and gaps in disability inclusion as well as make new commitments towards addressing the plight of the disabled.
“We are here to share best practices and we look forward to fruitful discussions on how we can partner with stakeholders to improve on disability inclusion in all sectors of social economic development,” Mr Yatani said.
The summit issues revolve around stigma and discrimination, inclusive education, technology and economic empowerment.
The Kenyan delegation includes officials from the ministries of Labour, Transport and Infrastructure as well as National Treasury.
The ministries are considered key to the implementation of policies related to disability inclusion.
Legislators with disabilities from both the Senate and the National Assembly are also attending the summit.
Written by Lizzie Kiama, Founding Director at This-Ability. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Bodies are where we put our theories of social justice into practice. It therefore follows that the categories in which bodies are placed, willingly or unwillingly, need to be subject to careful critique. In a society driven by narrow, visual representations of standards of beauty (for example in media, advertising and popular culture), women with disabilities have been largely invisible. Value is placed on bodies that most satisfy the socially constructed aesthetic, and because disabled bodies are culturally considered an aberration, they fall short and are therefore dismissed. This dismissal escalates into outright erasure because the effect of not being considered valuable means that disabilities are not represented, included or considered for anything. The media, for example, responsible for pushing messages that shape the consciousness of societies, will always choose to play it safe by only aligning their messages to viewer expectations rather than challenging the norm that equates disabled women with asexuality.
As able-bodied women campaign against the traditional view that motherhood should be the ultimate desire of every woman, disabled women advocate for the right to be even allowed to make the choice of motherhood. Being considered asexual, their decision-making regarding family planning is considered invalid, and may even be legally restricted. There have been reported cases of disabled women’s reproductive choices taken away through forced abortion and forced sterilization.
In Kenya, disability comes heavily associated with negative connotations – a result of cultural beliefs that form the lens through which Kenyans first interact with disability, which is then perpetuated as a subconscious bias throughout their lives. Some of these cultural beliefs include the myth that disability comes about due to witchcraft, curses and punishment from God for a sin committed. The effect? Stigma, discrimination and eventually, the disenfranchisement that characterizes the lives of persons with disability. The net of injustice tightens even further for women with disabilities. We face “double discrimination” within a society, both patriarchal and ableist. The issues unique to women with disabilities often fall through the cracks of mainstream women’s rights organizations, due to lack of inclusion and representation within those larger groups.
Increasing the visibility of disabled women and awareness of their sexuality does not equate to a call for the sexualization of disabled women. Indeed, sexualization of the female body continues to be a concern for women’s groups. Mainstream and digital media carry on driving attention towards the body parts rather than the whole of women, counteracting the strides women have made in encouraging respect for the autonomous female body. Without falling into the trap of sexualization, erasure, stigmatization and exclusion must be countered, and the consciousness of society changed, through visibility and by challenging norms that equate disability with asexuality.
As part of This-Ability’s work on increasing voice and creating visibility for young women with disabilities in Kenya, in 2016 a photography series was commissioned, aimed at challenging norms and stereotypes around disability, gender and sexuality. Here, we share ten photographs which explore the need for representation of women with disabilities in mainstream media. The photographs have been exhibited in various platforms both locally and internationally, enhancing the importance of positive imagery of African women with disabilities.
I am passionate about the rights and inclusion of blind women in society
I am passionate about creating awareness on intellectual disabilities in my community
I am passionate about increasing access to employment opportunities for women with disabilities in the private sector in Kenya
I am passionate about increasing access to decent employment opportunities for women and girls with intellectual disabilities
I am passionate about the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities in Kenya
I am passionate about disability rights and inclusion for women and girls with disabilities
I am passionate about the inclusion of women and girls with intellectual disabilities in society
I am passionate about advocating for genetic and invisible disabilities
I am passionate about increasing access to inclusive education for women and girls with intellectual disabilities
I am passionate about increasing access to sign language services for deaf women
It was early in 2018, and the 62nd session of the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW) was just two months away. We knew that CSW would be a prime opportunity for young women to influence global priorities. In the Ford Foundation’s East Africa office, we had a particular interest in using it to help amplify the voices of young women with disabilities, who are so often excluded from all kinds of decision-making and activism.
The planning time was short, and logistics were complicated. But driven by the strong conviction that women with disabilities need more opportunity to join forces with other women across the globe (and after a helpful conversation with Lizzie Kiama, director of gender and disability at This-Ability), we felt our way forward. We reached out to FIDA Kenya, the leading major women’s rights organization in the country, and gave them a grant to identify a small group of young women activists with disabilities, and help them get to New York City to participate in the CSW session.
As the largest women’s rights organization in Kenya and a grantee of the foundation’s BUILD program, FIDA was a logical choice for us to partner with. For our part, the foundation had worked to facilitate advocates’ participation in CSW before, and it had been a straightforward process: Once the grant was made, we had only to wait for a report back. But like most organizations in Kenya, FIDA had not in its 33 years dealt directly with women with disabilities. Being a BUILD grantee bolstered their confidence to take on this project, but none of us anticipated the specific challenges it would involve.
Supporting a delegation
In addition to Lizzie Kiama, the women chosen to attend CSW were Janet Marania Teyiaa, an elected member of parliament representing the women’s constituency in Kajiado county; Elizabeth Ndirangu, a member of Kenya’s paralympic team; Fatuma Mohammed, a coordinator with the Northern Kenya Disabled Organization; and activists Joy Rehema Mawia, of the Kenya Association of the Intellectually Handicapped and Farida Nabbania, of the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda.
All these women had disabilities, but at first we did not know what specific accommodations they would need in order to fully participate. When FIDA first spoke to Fatuma and asked her to apply for her visa online, for example, she calmly explained that she had a visual disability and could not do so without assistance. She also lived in a rural area, and could not simply hop in a taxi to the airport.
Other complications were not strictly related to a participant’s disability. Farida was denied a visa by the American Embassy in Uganda on the grounds that she was a young, unmarried, childless woman with no “proper ties” that would compel her to return after the visit. In the end, she was not able to be part of the delegation.
Even before we arrived in New York, we began to realize the challenges of accessibility—and how crucial it was to the women’s participation.
In working to reserve accommodations and plane tickets for the participants, FIDA Kenya found that most airlines were “uncomfortable” with idea that five of the women would be traveling with their own wheelchairs, even as checked luggage. Lizzie, who has a physical disability, told me she prefers to travel with her wheelchair because it allows her to be more independent. When she has relied on airplane assistance services in the past, they had deposited her in a corner and left her there until it was time for boarding. On one occasion, she was left to wait without access to bathroom facilities or food. But given the difficulties with the airlines, the women ultimately had to use rented wheelchairs when they arrived in New York.
Information about hotel accessibility was often incomplete or unreliable. And then there was transportation. Hiring suitable ground transportation in New York was expensive. But we figured we could rely on UberWAV, which offers rides in wheelchair accessible vehicles—and if push came to shove, find a taxi.
When we finally arrived in New York—having arranged flights and finally secured accommodation—we faced another unwelcome surprise: UberWAV was actually not readily available in New York. Regular Uber vehicles were not accessible to wheelchair users, and taxis were impatient to pick the next customer—they could hardly wait long enough for us to take the wheelchair out, left alone provide the receipt we needed. Our movement from venue to venue became so complicated that we decided to choose between them carefully, and ultimately cut down on engagements.
It turned out that even UN Women, the body responsible for CSW, did not have a strategy for including people with disabilities. And not all UN facilities are accessible for people with disabilities. So it was not a surprise that very few discussions at CSW focused on disability issues. Clearly, these issues are not under regular consideration, and without the presence of people with disabilities (made much more difficult by a lack of accommodations), organizations and companies of all kinds feel less urgency to address them.
Opportunities for action and engagement
But through this process, the Ford team learned a lot, and the women influenced the conversation. Through a partnership with the Kenyan consulate in New York and contacts at the ministry of public service, we met Kenya’s cabinet secretary for gender, and our governors—who, ironically, it is more difficult for us to meet back in Kenya.
After our meeting, the cabinet secretary committed to push for including people with disabilities in government employment and education polices, to improve access to the Women’s Enterprise Fund, and to help put in place a database of people with disabilities for planning purposes, using disaggregated data. The secretary also pledged to help connect people with disabilities to opportunities for advancement, to push for anti-discrimination laws and policies, and to raise the profile of people with disabilities through participation in sports.
Leveraging Ford’s connections, we pushed our way into UN Women, where we offered concrete proposals on how to include young women with disabilities in the CSW agenda. We even shared Ford’s disability grant making criteria, to help inform UN Women’s disability strategy. We also met with key women’s rights donors, including Frida, Open Society Foundations, and the Urgent Action Fund, which pledged technical assistance to support the group’s fundraising efforts.
We networked and learned with other women’s rights leaders from around the world, and developed stronger relationships with other women with disabilities. We attended events focused on women with disabilities, and connected with women with disabilities who discuss CSW well beyond the dates of the event. Being at CSW gave us a better understanding of how to engage with its policy mechanisms and UN agencies, and motivated us to learn about new fundraising approaches and opportunities.
What we learned
To start with, we learned that it’s important to understand the scope of an effort like this, to plan well and be realistic about what is possible. It’s important to have proper training to help understand and better meet the needs of people with disabilities. People often feel uncomfortable talking about disabilities, but to be able to provide appropriate accommodations, its crucial to know exactly what people need.
We also know now that we can’t assume that an organization that deals with women’s issues has experience in dealing women with disabilities. And we need to be conscious of the intersecting discriminations women with disabilities experience, and focus on ensuring that they are equipped to navigate challenging experiences independently and with dignity. For this to be possible, we need to plan for accommodating disability as an integral part of any grant, not as an add-on.
I certainly learned a lot about patience and perseverance. But what stuck with me the most was something Fatuma said. “My needs aren’t special,” she told me. “How my needs are met may be different, but they are the same as everyone else’s.” Individually and collectively, these women are challenging norms and pushing to expand inclusion. To support them in achieving such important change, it is clear we will need to challenge some of our own ways of operating and thinking as well.
It was an opportunity to meet game changers during the Ashoka cocktail held at Concert House, Kilimani last Tuesday.
Ashoka is a global organisation that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs.
The invite-only meet and greet also served as a networking event where entrepreneurs got to share ideas and get to know one another.
Present were Ability Consulting CEO Lizzie Kiama, Oracle Consulting managing partner Joe Githinji and Ashoka Innovators regional director Peris Wakesho.
The Australian High Commission and This-Ability Consulting hosted a breakfast roundtable on Thursday at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi.
In consultation with the International Labour Organization Global Business and Disability Network, the four hour roundtable included discussions on pertinent issues on disability inclusion in the private sector.
Present were Australian high commissioner John Feakes, Devolution, Planning and Gender Development chair Gloria Ndekei, This-Ability Consullting CEO Lizzie Kiama, AAR Health Services director Maryjka Beckman.
, LONDON, United Kingdom Jul 24 – The first ever global disability summit attracting participants from governments, the civil society, the private sector, donor agencies and charities has kicked off in London.
Kenya’s delegation is headed by the Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani.
Addressing a civil society forum on Monday, the Cabinet Secretary said Kenya was honoured to co-host the summit with the government of the UK.
“We expect to get the best out this unique event and the people gathered here are in leadership positions that are crucial for the implementation of the outcomes of the event,” he said.
The civil society forum was a pre-cursor to the main summit that takes place today.
Yatani said Kenya takes the summit seriously and is a willing partner in the improvement of the welfare of persons with disabilities.
“I am bringing you greetings from our president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and the people of the republic of Kenya,” he told the gathering of participants from across the world.
The summit, which is taking place at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London, is anchored on four key themes; Stigma and discrimination, inclusive education, economic empowerment and, innovation and technology.
In her welcome remarks via video link, the British Secretary of State for international development Penny Mordaunt said she was delighted to host the summit together with the government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance.
She said, “I look forward to deliberations that will galvanise moment and commitments to deliver real and lasting change for people with disabilities.”
Five Kenyan legislators, living with disabilities, from the Senate and National Assembly are among the delegates at the summit.
Nominated Senator Dr. Gertrude Musuruve said she looks forward to commitments that will boost economic empowerment of persons with disabilities.
“Persons with disabilities should not be seen a burden to the society. If empowered, they can stand on their own and contribute to economic development,” she said.
Kajiado County Woman Representative Janet Teiyaa said Kenya lags behind when it comes to making public transport disability friendly. “I hope Kenya can implement what I have seen in London. The public transport system was designed with persons with disabilities in mind,’ she noted. “For example, there are ramps for wheel chairs into buses as well priority seats for PWDs in buses.”
Makueni County Woman Representative Rose Museo said she was looking forward to seeing stronger partnerships that yield better visibility and opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Anderson Gitonga, the Executive Director of the United Disabled Persons of Kenya said, “We are very hopeful that the governments and development partners will come together to make practical and tangible commitments that can be translated into real programmes and interventions that can change lives of persons with disabilities.”
Lizzie Kiama from This Ability Consulting and a champion of the rights of women living with disabilities said Kenyans have not invested in learning on disability issues. “We rely on our personal experience with disability which is problematic because it comes from a medical and charity model and we need to change approach,” she observed.
It is estimated that globally about 1 billion people have some form of disability and they continue to face appalling levels of stigma, discrimination and abuse.[This article was authored by Alex Chamwada of Chams Media]
October 22, 2014
Lizzie Kiama checks her watch, then glances nervously toward the door. With only 10 minutes left, she begins to worry– what if no one shows up?
Every time she hosts a game of wheelchair rugby, Kiama is seized with these same, creeping fears. “It has been ingrained in my society that disability is a bad thing,” Kiama says. “It’s a negative thing. Disability is ugly, disability is poverty, disability is a lack of education.”
Even in modernized areas of Kenya, buildings lack crucial accessibility features, like elevators and ramps. These physical barriers are compounded by less tangible obstacles, like illiteracy. In the absence of public education, Kenyan schools are exclusive, costly, and primarily located in wealthier, urban areas. Moreover, students with disabilities (when they can afford schooling) are designated to specialized schools, many of which are crowded and insufficiently funded.
“In my country, no accommodations are made,” Kiama says. “So if you’re disabled, you’re destined for failure.”
It is a mentality Kiama knows personally. At 18 years old, she lost mobility in a car accident. Kiama needed a wheelchair during her recovery, but refused to identify as disabled. She didn’t want to be labeled, banished to that marginalized group. She didn’t want to become invisible.
Kiama regained the ability to walk, subsequently marrying and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration through the United States International University. But, upon giving birth to her daughter, Kiama lost mobility permanently, the result of weak joints after pregnancy.
Kiama sunk into depression and that despair, she says, affected her parenting. Resolving to improve for her children, Kiama reclaimed her identity. At 30, she embraced the label she’d denied twelve years earlier.
“It took really looking at myself and accepting that I was, indeed, disabled and that I could look at it as something negative or I could let it be a source of empowerment,” Kiama says.
As a mother and wife, Kiama found her place in society again. Yet, she still missed being active, a private loss. Kenya offers few adaptive sports, and only for men. . Women with disabilities, Kiama says, are left behind at the intersection of gender inequality and disability discrimination.
Unwilling to settle for invisibility, Kiama took matters into her own hands.
And so, in 2011, This-Ability Consulting was born, a firm devoted to helping companies implement sustainable, inclusive business models and strategies. Through This-Ability, Kiama also launched Women and Wheels, a series of wheelchair rugby games followed by lifestyle workshops. In one post-game session, a team of doctors offered on-site family planning services and health screenings. Sports, Kiama says, are “universal,” making them an ideal platform for social change.
Back at the gym, a stream of women and girls (and even a few men) pour in through the doors– a site that never fails to melt Kiama’s heart. Two women are hesitant to sit in the chairs, but Kiama persuades them to try. Once they start playing, their reservations slip away, brushed aside like beads of sweat.
Kiama’s project is still young, but it’s growing. Her work is creating the considerate, inclusive society she’s always dreamt of seeing.
“Whether they are able-bodied or disabled or gay or lesbian, or however they may identify, I want a society that is accepting of them,” Kiama says. “That is encouraging. That is affording the same opportunities.”
“A state where everyone can be good at what they do or can be whoever they want to be.”
Lizzie Kiama founded the Women & Wheels Project to open up wheelchair sports to women and girls both with and without disabilities in Nairobi, Kenya. Through her own experiences as a differently-abled woman, she has great experience working to develop disability-inclusion strategies for organizations. In addition to the wheelchair sports, the project will also incorporate interactive workshops on gender-based violence, sexual & reproductive rights, leadership and empowerment.
Lizzie was first introduced to wheelchair rugby in the United States by Mobility International USA through a program called Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD). Using what she gained from WILD, plus her experience in the disability field, Lizzie created a successful workshop that integrated both standard and differently-abled women in this unique sport. The hunger for this subject is strong in Kenya, as adaptive sports are rarely available, and when they are, they are generally reserved for men. She is already planning her next workshop in March, and has collaborated with the Ministry of Sports in Kenya, Blaze Sports America and a team of experts that are happy to volunteer their skills to the participants.
“I believe this project will give both disabled and non-disabled women and girls the motivation and drive to pursue their rights” says Kiama, “while also enabling access to opportunities that have been reserved for more able bodies and more often male members of the community.”
The funds from The Pollination Project will be used to expand the project and their ability to reach more people.
GRANT AWARD DATE: DECEMBER 11, 2013
Lizzie Kiama, Director of Gender and Disability at This-Ability Consulting
LMG: What does “break barriers, open doors to realize an inclusive society for all” mean to you?
Lizzie Kiama: The statement to me means removing all obstacles that prevent access to opportunities for self-development of particularly persons with disabilities. Accessing education, healthcare, employment, infrastructure such as transport and technology, and other basic human rights such as food, shelter and security. In my opinion, the biggest barrier to accessing opportunities is attitude; negative cultural attitudes towards disability in a particular society are the main reason children with disabilities are kept hidden, they then do not have access to basic education and healthcare, they grow up and become adults with disabilities who cannot fend for themselves, becoming beggars or hawkers and doing menial jobs.
I also believe ones attitude has the ability to change ones circumstance, despite being born with a disability or having acquired a disability later in life, I believe we all have the power within ourselves to make life better for ourselves and our families. Although, it is important to note that it is much harder for the uneducated disabled person in rural Kenya to live a dignified life, only because they live a life of exclusion and discrimination. “Break barriers, open doors to realize an inclusive society for all” for me, only means that there remains a lot to be done. Development organizations working in rural areas on issues such as Education, Health and Economic Empowerment are in a position of power, they can make a difference in many disabled peoples lives if they choose to make a conscious effort at inclusion. If I could address them, I would say to approach the communities they work with and focus on practical, sustainable, inclusive methods. Make sure the disabled children are going to school; invest in informal learning for the adults too. There are a many projects that can also serve to stimulate an individual’s intelligence.
LMG: What is the most important progress you have witnessed in implementing disability-sensitive policies and/or promoting public awareness?
Kiama: I have realized people are not inherently evil; everyone wants everyone else to live a good life, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their lives. With Disability policies, I find that it is a very personal experience, and if you come at it from a human perspective, I have found people to always be receptive, and they are often shocked at how little they know about the Disability world. My approach to Disability issues is that they are dynamic and can impact you in one-way or another. For example, my Women & Wheels Project is a wheelchair rugby development workshop that incorporates sessions on gender-based violence, health, sexual and reproductive rights targets women and girls of different abilities. It has captured a lot of attention because (I think) by not focusing on Disability issues but on issues that generally affect all women and girls; we are actually tackling issues of Disability in a roundabout way. We are practicing inclusion, and as the women interact and have fun, they are not disabled. They are all women.
LMG: From your perspective, what remaining challenges or obstacles are of highest priority?
Kiama: Personally, I feel access to education for children with disabilities is of highest priority. It is my opinion that tackling issues from the root is the only to ensure we are not always chasing our tails. I also think we need to change our laws to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. After countries that ratified the UNCRPD and enacted it into their laws, we were all hopeful that things would change for the disabled people. In Kenya, for example we have a very progressive Disability Act but there is no enforcement. I think for a law to be passed, there should be penalties that follow, should the said law be broken. The Disability Act for example has a requirement that all organizations reserve 5% employment positions for people with disabilities, this has been in effect for almost 5 years, and yet you can count the number of disabled people in meaningful employment positions. Some organizations remain oblivious to this law yet they are supposed to up to date with the current labor laws. I think if we borrowed a leaf from the American Disability Act, we would see more changes in our society.
LMG: As we approach the post-2015 time period, what actions do you recommend for leaders like yourself to take to encourage support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life?
Kiama: I would recommend when one is working towards the integration of persons with disabilities, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is to have a fully inclusive society, this means that we all want people with different abilities to live together and to support each other in accessing opportunities. Political, social, economic and cultural life does not exist in a bubble; we all contribute to each other’s well-being and we should all find a way to exist together. As leaders in the Disability world, we need to find ways of including non-disabled people to further our cause for equality, dignity and justice, we all need to bring our individual talents to the table which can only ensure results and make our work efficient, sustainable and truly inclusive.