“Disabled boy thrown out of moving bus” This headline would generate furious debate today for a number of reasons. First, we do not use “disabled” anymore. It is insensitive, negative and prejudiced.
“Persons living with disability” is more like it. Second, such level of heartlessness would be impossible to imagine in today’s highly exposed society.
The bus, the crew and anyone remotely related to them would become instant celebrities, albeit the infamous kind, thanks to social media, before the fabled arm of the law does its bit. But the mid 1980s we grew up in were a different time zone all-together.
First, the headline would pass because well, ‘disabled’, so what? Secondly, thrown out of a moving bus, again, so what? Happens all the time. It did happen to me.
After trying in vain to get a school for our brother with a mental challenge, our mother transferred us from upcountry to the city so that he could attend Jacaranda Special School.
A number of times, my siblings and I were kicked out of a bus on our way to school when our brother developed epileptic fits. This happened in a bus full of fellow humans. We would be left in the middle of a coffee plantation, two little girls and a convulsing boy, with nothing else but prayers that he doesn’t die.
Even in the sophisticated city, we found out, people were too scared of “catching” whatever was ailing the kid they passively supported the expulsion of uniformed kids from a bus.
Thankfully, times have changed and constant highlighting of physically challenged persons, their achievements and conditions has debunked a sizeable amount of myths.
The Kenyan media has run plights of children living with disabilities side by side with positive stories of successful adult role models who these kids can look up to.
A few examples are Special Programmes PS Josepheta Mukobe, High Court judge Mumbi Ngugi, Nominated senator Isaac Mwaura and many others.
Indeed, when “The Golden Girl”, Goldalyn Kakuya was asked who her role model was in a number of interviews after she topped last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination, she confidently quoted the High Court judge.
Goldalyn was not in a special but a regular school. Much of her story was about her success in the examination. The media, therefore, missed the critical aspect of inclusive education.
A great part of stories such as Goldalyn’s success are owed to the acceptance she gained from the community and the school she attended.
Telling her story from this angle would surely help thaw the hearts of some hardliners who think their kids shouldn’t mix with physically challenged colleagues for fear of ‘contamination’.
It is believed that if the media is sensitised on inclusive education, many stories will be told towards the various phases of implementing the critical programme. It is, therefore, paramount for the stakeholders of inclusive education to actively involve and invest in the media.
During the successful first Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE) Conference on Inclusive Education – 2016, a consensus was reached that inclusive education has come of age to be introduced in the Kenya Education system.
Although a continuous process, it ensures that each child with or without disability has an equal opportunity in learning.
In fact, this was towards meeting a long overdue global vision marked in the Education for All Framework for Action (EFA) and which was adopted by the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.
And with the introduction of Universal Education in Kenya in 2013, there has been remarkable progress in embracing inclusive learning, but not much has gone into interrogating, especially by the media its impact.
The Fourth Estate should, perhaps, invest a similar enthusiasm in dissecting the education system as it has done in analysing the socio-economic and political dynamics.
The government has tried to incorporate children living with disabilities in education through special or integrated schools. However, until we all consciously have our schools accessible to our children without discriminating their physical status, have more teachers trained in special education to teach them alongside children without disabilities, only then, will we say that inclusive education is making a headway.
This is why the media should dissect the myths of inclusive education to ensure that exclusion of our children with disabilities in schools becomes a matter of serious national discourse.
Personally, I believe, education is not all about reading, writing and passing exams; it is about empowering all children including those with disabilities with relevant skills and enabling each one of them participate in the development of its own community.
My brother may not have successfully gone through the education system but he was given skills at Jacaranda Special School. He is now an active member of the community.