The Constitution of Kenya (2010), through the Bill of Rights, guarantees every citizen their cultural, economic, and social rights, with the government offering social security to those who are unable to support themselves and their dependents. Among the people in this category are Persons with Disabilities who need the support for living and have the capacity to use their capabilities to achieve social and economic development. So far, the Kenyan government has made great strides towards enhancing the social protection of persons with disabilities. However, some gaps remain in the provision of these services and the government should consider sealing them to enhance the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
An inclusive national health insurance plan
While the government has established the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), which is relatively cheap and affordable, compared to other medical insurances, there is a need to improve the benefits package for it to be helpful to persons with disabilities.
As it is now, NHIF mainly benefits civil servants who can get comprehensive medical services using the Fund. However, for many other Kenyans who are self-employed, including a majority of persons with disabilities, the Fund is not of much help. Persons with disabilities require specialized care, much of which the insurance does not cover, or considers cosmetic.
For example, while albinism is a medical condition that is recognized as a disability, NHIF will not fund the provision of sunscreen, a product so critical to persons with albinism that without it, their health is compromised. Equally, unless one is a civil servant, the Fund will not cover the cost of prescription glasses, which persons with albinism needs to correct vision defects.
Considering that the majority of the 0.9 million persons with disability in Kenya live in dire situations caused by the negative impact of their disabilities, it makes it hard for them to be able to access the specialized medical care they need. This only makes them more vulnerable and unable to live a dignified life. The government should consider streamlining NHIF and expanding its scope to cover specialized care that results from a disability. Doing so will enhance the health of persons with disabilities and give them a chance to live a decent life.
An inclusive public transport system
As it is now, the Kenyan public transport system is discriminative against persons with disabilities. The system is very unfriendly to this group of people making mobility a challenge . persons with disabilities struggle to get a reliable means of transport and most of the time they end up using private means, which come with a huge economic burden. On the occasions that persons with disabilities have to use a public means of transport, they are perceived as a burden and are often abused, mistreated, harassed, and even overcharged by the matatu operators.
Such humiliating and dehumanizing experiences leave the affected persons traumatized and they often tend to withdraw, avoiding any interactions or hassles that would require them to travel. Such actions have a ripple effect as such persons miss out on opportunities for personal development, such as employment, thus resulting in dependency.
It is high time that the government in Kenya improves the public transport system in the country to make it friendly and accommodating to vulnerable people and especially persons with disabilities. It is noteworthy that in 2019 the Ministry of Transport conceived such an idea in partnership with the National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) and other entities. However, two years later, the fire with which the plan was hatched has died out and the project seems to have been abandoned. For the sake of persons with disabilities in Kenya, the government should consider reviving the initiative.
Comprehensive education scholarships
Persons with disabilities have to work extra hard in school to be at par with their counterparts. Due to the negative impact of their disabilities, many persons with disabilities come from humble backgrounds and often rely on other government social protection services for their survival such as the Cash Transfer Program. Those who manage to perform well in school, have to work hard to fundraise money for their fees in the next education level. Many of them end up not continuing with their education; their stories are never told or heard and dreams are shattered.
While it is commendable that the government, through the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD), offers partial scholarships to persons with disabilities in Kenya, the leaders should consider offering full scholarships to such students. Such support will not only offer them education but will also empower them and improve their capacity to make use of their abilities and fend for themselves. Over time, the comprehensive scholarships will produce a pool of educated, skilled, and empowered persons with disabilities, who will in turn be able to contribute to nation-building and community development.