What you need to know:
- There are numerous barriers experienced there in many African countries.
- Besides widespread stigma and other attitudinal barriers, facilities are largely physically inaccessible.
Today’s 10th anniversary of our Constitution is an opportunity to reflect on what it means for every Kenyan. This is even more urgent for marginalised communities, for whom the idea of devolution meant a deliberate step to address inequalities and barriers that they had faced over many decades.
Interrogating the county governments’ role in ensuring a more inclusive and accessible society for persons with disabilities must feature prominently.
Data shows that most persons with disabilities reside in rural areas yet, often, there are numerous barriers experienced there in many African countries. Besides widespread stigma and other attitudinal barriers, facilities are largely physically inaccessible.
The rough terrain and poor rugged road networks also make it difficult for them to access schools, health facilities and social and recreational facilities, among others. Devolution presented an opportunity for counties, more so the rural ones, to progressively ensure persons with disabilities fully benefit from it.
Public and political spheres
Highly progressive, the Constitution secures many gains for persons with disabilities in public and political spheres. But to introspect, and gauge if we are on the right track, sometimes it takes a precedent, and it has not been positive. Despite the constitutional requirement that every county nominates at least one person with disabilities to the county assembly, 17 of the 47 have not.
The umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities, United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), lodged a petition in court in 2017 to challenge this but got no positive ruling, forcing the 17 to be without the critical voice and expertise in the key decision-making centres.
But even in the absence of representatives, there must exist an enabling environment for full participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities through their organisations.
This includes enabling structures and tools to make it easier to implement disability-specific laws such as the Persons with Disabilities Act and others to support the socioeconomic development of such people.
County-specific disability laws exist while some counties have persons with disabilities in high executive levels, such as chief officers or disability advisor to the governor. But there is a need to have more in the county executive (cabinet). Still, much more need to be done on employment for the counties to reach the constitutional requirement of five per cent of every elective and appointive post to be held by persons with disabilities.
There must be identification and removal of barriers such as lack of lifts and ramps in county offices and adherence to provisions of reasonable accommodation to facilitate employment of persons with disabilities.
County governments must enforce the provision of an inclusive and accessible built environment through approval of accessible building plans to ensure that all public buildings are accessible to all persons with disabilities.
Constitutional provisions around public participation have increasingly played a crucial role in ensuring the voices of persons with disabilities are heard in all matters that concern them at the county level. Does every county assembly have a sign language interpreter during their proceedings? They must ensure the full and meaningful inclusion of all persons with disabilities in their affairs.
Some counties are much ahead in terms of including persons with disabilities in public participation with very elaborate structures, from the village level, of ensuring diverse voices are captured and document their inclusive public participation experiences.
The discourse of constitutional reform must be inclusive. This is also the message that came off the final communique from last year’s sixth Annual Devolution Conference. Nothing less should be expected.
Dr Masakhwe (PhD) is a chief officer, Kakamega County government; email@example.com. Ms Ombati is a disability rights advocate; firstname.lastname@example.org.