OPINION

Do more to secure future of visually-impaired children

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 per cent of the Kenyan population, approximately 3.5 million people, are living with disabilities.

These people, including children, have the right to use a language of own choice, promotion and use of sign language, Braille and other appropriate technologies to aid them access quality education as outlined in the Constitution.

A person with disability is also entitled to access educational institutions and facilities for persons with disabilities that are integrated to the extent compatible with the interests of the person.

Although the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003 was seen as a boost to the education sector in general, free education may not be free for pupils with visual impairment.

Out of the 45,000 children living with visual impairment in Kenya, only 7,000 have access to quality education. This is compounded by the fact that the cost of educating a child with visual disability is three times more than that of a sighted child.

WHO’s 2002 report on the magnitude of visual impairment reveals that more than 161 million people were visually impaired, of who 37 million were blind.

Unless major initiatives are taken, this figure could double by 2020, meaning the number of people who need to read and write Braille would continue to escalate.

Statistics from Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa (KBTA), a non-governmental organisation that aims at improving the lives of visually impaired children show that only 37 per cent of visually impaired students in Kenya have access to braille while the rest have to share at a ratio of 1:3.

The cost of a braille machine is approximately Sh80,000, a ream of braille paper Sh750 while one subject textbook costs Sh3,000. These facilities are not affordable to most parents and guardians. While the government has passed a number of legislations that promote the rights of people with disabilities, access to quality education remains a big challenge because efforts to address barriers faced by visually impaired pupils are minimal.

For instance, under the FPE, the government allocates Sh3,000 per blind child to the National Integrated Education Programme for the visually impaired. This is low measured against the cost of a braille machine.

These challenges deny them competitive advantage, endless possibilities and opportunities. If these children are supported to access education and assistive devices, they can achieve their career goals.

The responsibility of ensuring access to quality education by persons with visual disability cannot be left to the government. There’s need for publicprivate-partnership.

KBTA has been at the forefront in supporting education of visually impaired pupils by providing assistive devices. Through its programme, KBTA has provided 650 new braille machines and over 50 tons of braille paper reaching over 20,000 children and trained 170 school-based braille repair and maintenance technicians across Africa.

In order to further empower children with visual disabilities, early this month KBTA launched a six-week fundraising drive to partially fill the current gap of 800 braille machines at a cost of US 800 dollars (Sh80,000) per unit in order to realise the desired goal of 1:1 ratio of machine to child.

With help from stakeholders in the banking, entertainment, food processing among other sectors, over Sh11 million has so far been raised.

Such collective efforts by the private sector, NGOs, public sector and wellwishers are crucial in securing the future of visually impaired children in the country.

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