Accessibility Rights for Persons With Disabilities
By Maureen Kanyingi
Women and men with disabilities can and want to be productive members of society. Promoting a more inclusive society and employment opportunities for people with disabilities requires improved access to basic education, vocational training relevant to labour market needs and jobs suited to their skills, interests and abilities, with adaptations as needed. There is the need to dismantle barriers - making the physical environment more accessible, providing information in a variety of formats, and challenging attitudes and mistaken assumptions about people with disabilities.
The reality however is that persons with disabilities can hardly access any specialized support services especially in the rural and urban slums, where the majority live. Their rights are not recognized and their access to even the most basic of needs fully depends on the support of a third party.
Solutions to most of their suffering are known; but inadequate and meager resources have hindered provision of their most needed basic support services.
The Government of Kenya has adopted a number of laws and policies pertaining to people with disabilities, including their right to productive and decent work and basic services. The Constitution being the mother law of the land categorically provides under Article 54 for persons with disabilities. It states that; A person with any disability is entitled;
- to be treated with dignity and respect and to be addressed and referred to in a manner that is not demeaning;
- to access educational institutions and facilities for persons with disabilities that are integrated into society to the extent compatible with the interests of the person;
- to reasonable access to all places, public transport and information;
- to use Sign language, Braille or other appropriate means of communication; and
- to access materials and devices to overcome constraints arising from the person's disability.
The Constitution also provides that the State should ensure the progressive implementation of the principle that at least five percent of the members of the public in elective and appointive bodies are persons with disabilities.
Persons with Disabilities in Kenya live in vicious cycle of poverty due to stigmatization, limited education opportunities, inadequate access to economic opportunities and access to the labour market.
The Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003, is a comprehensive law covering rights, rehabilitation and equal opportunities for people with disabilities. It creates the National Council of Persons with Disabilities as a statutory organ to oversee the welfare of persons with disabilities. The Act aims to ensure that Persons with Disabilities' issues and concerns are mainstreamed.
The Government has the responsibility to take steps towards the full realization of the rights of persons with disabilities as set out in the Persons with Disability Act, 2003. The Act provides that;
- No person shall deny a person with a disability access to opportunities for suitable employment.
- A qualified employee with a disability shall be subject to the same terms and conditions of employment and the same compensation, privileges, benefits, fringe benefits, incentives or allowances as qualified able-bodied employees.
- An employee with a disability shall be entitled to exemption from tax on all income accruing from his employment.
The National Council of Persons with Disabilities shall endeavor to secure the reservation of five percent of all casual, emergency and contractual positions in employment in the public and private sectors for persons with disabilities.
The Act also provides that No person or learning institution shall deny admission to a person with a disability to any course of study by reason only of such disability, if the person has the ability to acquire substantial learning in that course.
Learning institutions should take into account the special needs of persons with disabilities with respect to the entry requirements, pass marks, curriculum, examinations, auxiliary services, use of school facilities, class schedules, physical education requirements and other similar considerations.
More special schools and institutions, especially for the deaf, the blind and the mentally retarded, should be established to cater for formal education, skills development and self reliance.
The Council should work in consultation with the relevant agencies of Government to make provisions in all districts for an integrated system of special and non-formal education for persons with all forms of disabilities and the establishment where possible of Braille and recorded libraries for persons with visual disabilities.
Persons with disabilities are also entitled to a barrier- free and disability-friendly environment to enable them to have access to buildings, roads and other social amenities, and assistive devices and other equipment to promote their mobility.
The law clearly provides that a proprietor of a public building shall adapt it to suit persons with disabilities in such manner as may be specified by the Council. All proprietors of public buildings shall comply within five years since the Act came into operation.
An operator of a public service vehicle shall also adapt it to suit persons with disabilities in such manner as may be specified by the Council. All operators of public service vehicles should comply with this provision within two years after this section comes into operation.
With regards to voting, all persons with disabilities shall be entitled at their request, to be assisted by persons of their choice in voting in presidential, parliamentary and civic elections. A person who undertakes to render assistance shall do so strictly in accordance with the instructions of the voter.
Polling stations should be made accessible to persons with disabilities during elections, and such persons shall in addition be provided with the necessary devices and assistive devices and services to facilitate the exercise of this right under this section.
The Law also provides that all television stations shall provide a sign language inset or sub-titles in all newscasts and educational programmes, and in all programmes covering events of national significance.
All persons providing public telephone services should as far as possible install and maintain telephone devices or units for persons with hearing disabilities and tactile marks on telephone sets to enable persons with visual disabilities to communicate through the telephone system.
Employment Act 2007 (Act No. 11 of 2007) on the other hand contains elaborate provisions aimed at protecting persons from discrimination in the employment sphere. The Act prohibits discrimination in employment within three main aspects:
- promotion of equality of opportunity in employment;
- elimination of discrimination in any employment policy or practice, including against prospective employees based on their race, color, sex, ethnic origin, HIV status, disability, pregnancy; and
- the payment of equal remuneration for work of equal value.
Persons with disabilities are entitled to a barrier-free and disability-friendly environment for them to access buildings, roads and other social amenities.
Disability rights are Human Rights. Everybody has a role to play to make our society barrier-free for all. The council should ensure that they serve Adjustment Orders upon proprietors of public buildings, public transport operators and providers of communication and information services non-conformity to the accessibility requirements of the persons with Disabilities Act.
Productive and decent work enables people with disabilities to realize their aspirations, improve their living conditions and participate more actively in society. Ensuring a disability perspective in all aspects of policy and labour legislation, effective implementation and enforcement of existing disability laws and policies and providing for equal employment opportunities and training are among the factors that contribute to the reduction of poverty and to the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities in Kenya.