In his autobiography, Sailing in Storm, Dr Phitalis Were Masakwe narrates the story of overcoming obstacles by persons with disabilities (PWDs). In developing countries, their unemployment and underemployment is much higher than for those without disabilities.
More than a billion people — 15 per cent — have some form of disability. World Bank data show 80 per cent of them acquire disability at age 18-64, the average working age for them. They are eventually likely to be unemployed, hence living in poverty, worsened by the adverse effects of the raging Covid-19 global pandemic.
PWDs suffer adverse socioeconomic outcomes due to discriminatory prejudice and stigma. Very few PWDs are in formal employment despite legislation requiring at least a five per cent quota for PWDs in the public and private sector.
Their economic empowerment can enhance, enable and engage them economically to get decent jobs and income, reducing their poverty.
PWDs also urgently need education assistance, assistive technologies and devices, infrastructure and equipment grants to help them to acquire the necessary technical ,soft, leadership and software skills to successfully run their start-ups and increase their employability prospects.
There is a need for government policies that move beyond the employee status of PWDs. First, encouraging, promoting and supporting PWDs to become self-employed and develop their entrepreneurial capacity to make them economically independent and self-reliant.
Secondly, providing interest-friendly loans and affordable credit to PWDs to start and expand businesses. Thirdly, including PWDs in national political and economic conversations and mentorship programmes to make them able and capable of running viable and profitable projects.
That will be a significant milestone towards achieving social, political and economic inclusion of PWDs according to Kenya Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).