During America’s great depression in the 1940’s, Franklin Roosevelt, who was the President from 1933 to 1945, nursed the country through the dark days by initiating a rebuilding programme of an economy devastated by the Second World War.
He did this while bound to a wheelchair, having suffered from poliomyelitis in his earlier life. He did not let this physical disability get in his way to achieving greatness and helping his country go through a period that would have consumed a lesser person.
Franklin is in good company among physically challenged people who achieved greatness. There is Steven Hawkings, the late pre-eminent scientist; Stevie Wonder, the blind musician of note and Beethoven who is known as the father of classical music though he was deaf.
Locally, we celebrate Henry Wanyoike who has soared above physical disability to excel as a Paralympic athlete, putting Kenya in the global map. These people have defied all odds to excel in their chosen fields.
These individuals are merely a drop in the ocean compared to the number of people living with disabilities across the globe. Nearly 1.7 million people in Kenya alone live with some kind of disability.
Inopportunely, we do not have enough facilities in place to support persons with disabilities to live and thrive as equal members of society. They remain disadvantaged because of their functional limitations, lack of skills, illiteracy, lack or minimal access to basic services (health and education), technical, and communication and information services.
Further, they are unable to operate and run their own businesses in a country where the informal sector is the biggest employer. And when they engage in business, they have to fight it out with their able bodied colleagues.
It is this tough labour market that makes small and medium enterprises an appealing alternative income source. Like any of us, people with disabilities don’t want to be dependent on others to do things for them—they want to be self-sufficient and to live with a sense of mastery and dignity.
Mainstreaming them into the economy is an essential requirement for sustainable development. They are entitled to equal treatment and autonomy, but proactive measures are needed to make this happen. The economic exclusion of persons with disabilities is unacceptable in the face of social progress witnessed around the globe.
The government has enacted laws aimed at improving the situation of people with disabilities by promoting accessibility, participation, and equality in all areas of life, higher employment rates and inclusive education as well as social protection and necessary health services.
The latest effort is the joint collaboration between the UK and Kenyan governments to host the first ever Global Disability Summit held in July 2018 in London.
The summit resulted in commitments aimed at protecting the rights of persons with disabilities through legislation and action plans on disability inclusion, supporting them in accessing technology and increasing the affordability of assistive technology.
Among the specific commitments, governments, organisations and businesses pledged to develop the skills of people with disabilities and help them access decent work. Kenya specifically committed to creating safety nets to ensure that persons with disabilities are not forgotten.
The call was not only to governments, but to the private sector as well; to use their muscle to purposefully create opportunities for persons with disabilities. More however needs to be done.
It is on the back of this that KCB Foundation has integrated PWDs into its flagship work by providing targeted skills training and entrepreneurship development through the 2jiajiri programme.
With a target of empowering 1,000 PWDs annually in vocational skills training and enterprise development, KCB Foundation is sponsoring disabled students spread across vocational training schools in Kenya through 2jiajiri’s collaborative partnership model that pools both technical and financial resources to facilitate improved access to aspects of enterprise development.
Part of the support will also be extended to PWDs-owned micro enterprises to include business advisory services and financial access. KCB Foundation is building capacities of beneficiaries to enable them access financial services to allow them to grow their businesses.
The ultimate goal is to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth and social development by initiating wholesome transformative programs for the benefit of the wider society.
As a country, keeping people with disabilities at the center of our efforts will be key to the success of Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals.
(Mwangi is the Managing Director of KCB Foundation. [email protected])