The past few months have not been the best for Kenyans. There has been a lot uncertainties over the elections, weekly demonstrations and even fears that national examinations could be disrupted.
In the midst of all this, and even as the country prepared for the repeat poll on October 26, as the umbrella body of organisations of persons with disabilities, we agonised over how inclusive of persons with disabilities these repeat election would be.
In the August election, quite commendable preparations had been done to ensure that all persons with disabilities participated in the election. This was not the case for the repeat exercise and it is really important that electoral bodies ensure that structures are mainstreamed to ensure that no one is left out in such events because of lack of preparations.
It does not matter whether it is a repeat poll or not, people with disabilities have the right to participate. An observer in Kangemi Central, Nairobi County, narrated how during the repeat election, poll booths were inside a hall which was accessible via two flights of stairs.
This made it extremely difficult for persons using mobility devices such as crutches and wheelchairs to access the voting booths. Additionally, there was not much support to the elderly, despite the presence of many security officers.
It can be argued that there were no adequate preparations to accommodate people with disabilities because of the uncertainties surrounding the poll, or even that the weather was bad. But this has to be challenged.
There are legal entitlements that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is required to put in place to enable persons with disabilities to participate fully in elections. For instance, the commission is prohibited from designating as a polling station any place which may compromise the freedom to exercise one’s right to vote.
If as a person with a walking disability finds a polling station located on the second floor of a building with no lift or ramp, they have a right to seek redress. Kenya has close to four million persons with disabilities and until we as a country get it right in ensuring their inclusion in all spheres of life, we will have left a very critical group at the margins of society.
Kenya as a country is party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is the first legally binding instrument to clearly set out the obligations on States to avoid discrimination against persons with disabilities in all its forms and to create a society in which they can fully participate.
Dr Samuel Kabue, a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, notes that although Kenya offered significant leadership during the CRPD negotiations and signed and ratified the CRPD earlier than some resource-endowed countries, it has not offered significant leadership in its implementation.
Indeed, eliminating discrimination against persons with disabilities means not only combating prejudice but also adapting buildings, redesigning public transport, investing in social care, and also ensuring that persons with disabilities fully participate in public and political life among other obligations.
Our Constitution provides a legal framework which aims at securing a common future for all. It promotes equity and equality by promoting the participation of women, persons with disabilities and minorities in all aspects of development.
As a country we have to strive to live the spirit of the Constitution. This we can do by ensuring that all systems and structures work, both for those without disabilities but importantly, for all Kenyans with disabilities. This has to happen in the spirit of leaving no one behind. —The writer is the executive director, United Disabled Persons of Kenya