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
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.”