Disabilities are part of the human experience. According to the world health organization (WHO), an estimated 1.3 billion people experience significant disability.
This represents 16% of the world’s population meaning that 1 in 6 individuals face unique hurdles on their life journey.
In Kenya, according to the 2019 census, 2.2% (0.9 million people) of Kenyans live with some form of disability.
Moreover, the 2019 census also indicates that 1.9% of men have a disability compared with 2.5% of women and that there are more people with disabilities living in rural than urban areas.
Analysis of prevalence rates by residence shows 2.6% (0.7 million) of people in rural areas and 1.4% (0.2 million) of people in urban areas have a disability.
To clarify, persons with disabilities (PWDs) are those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
This may include learning and physical disabilities, visual and hearing impairment, as well as mental disorders, among others.
In addition, WHO’S research further reveals that persons with disabilities often encounter obstacles navigating through life due to inaccessible and unaffordable transportation and environmental barriers.
In this article we will explore what some of these difficulties are and what initiatives can be implemented to empower PWDS in society.
Challenges in the Transport Sector
When it comes to transportation challenges, most Persons with Physical Disabilities have difficulty boarding or exiting vehicles.
This is because a majority of public and private transportation vehicles are not designed to accommodate them.
For example, buses, trains, and taxis often lack features like ramps, lifts for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
In addition to this, these group of PWDs have fewer transportation options since most taxis and ride share vehicles restrict mobility.
Another challenge is poorly designed streets and lack of adequate signage to cater for them.
When public spaces have no curb cuts or ramps, it can make walking or using mobility aids much more difficult.
And for the visually impaired, poor signage and information at transportation hubs, including unclear or absent Braille signage, can pose difficulties.
This is because they usually have limited or no sight and tend to rely on white canes or assistive technologies to navigate an area.
Similarly, on environmental barriers, most buildings and public spaces are inaccessible to PWDs.
There are no ramps, elevators, or wide doorways. Such infrastructure is not designed or equipped to accommodate PWDs, hence making it hard to enter, navigate, or use these spaces independently.
Furthermore, on a social level, societies’ attitude can lead to the discrimination or exclusion of PWDs attempting to use public transportation.
Also Read: Inclusive Education and Employment for PWDs
This can be inform of negative behavior and stigmatization from transportation staff or fellow passengers thus, creating unwelcoming and uncomfortable experiences for PWDs.
A survey sponsored by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) found that transportation is an extremely important policy issue for those with disabilities.
People with disabilities have consistently described how transportation barriers affect their lives in important ways.
Moreover, the study found that a third of those with disabilities reported that inadequate transportation was a problem for them with over half labelling it as a major problem.
The more severe the disability of the respondent was, the more serious the transportation problems.
Initiatives to Empower PWDs
What then can be done to improve the situation?
A policy brief done by the Flone Initiative in partnership with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung organization titled; “The Need for Inclusive Transport in Kenya” proposed several policy interventions such as.
The Ministry of Transport should implement the DKS 372:2018, Draft Kenya Standard, Road Vehicles – Passenger vehicle Body Construction – Specification.
They argued that the implementation of this Standard will lead to the realization of accessibility and safety on newly built public service vehicles adapted to fit the needs of persons with disabilities and the elderly.
This can be coupled with policy initiatives that promote the local assembly of vehicles tailored to the local needs.
Secondly, the Nairobi County Government should enforce the Nairobi County Transport Act (2020) to ensure matatu owners and operators:
- Provide designated seats for persons with disabilities
- Adhere to the use of designated termini by matatu operators, and provision of designated seats to persons with mobility challenges
- Regulate music in PSVs.
Thirdly, that the Nairobi County Government should provide adequate spaces for picking and dropping passengers in town to avoid the cases of obstruction reported by the county officials.
The current spaces are not enough, and the available ones are irregularly allocated to SACCOs.
As such, this makes it hard for other matatu operators to onboard or alight persons with disabilities since the available spaces are squeezed.
Provision of accessible transportation by ensuring that public transportation vehicles such as buses and trains, are fully accessible with features like ramps, lifts, and designated seating areas for PWDs.
Investing in accessible infrastructure by ensuring sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and public buildings are designed with mobility impairments catered for.
And that all newly constructed or renovated buildings comply with accessibility standards.
Also, provision of adequate information and communication on transportation options, routes, and schedules in multiple formats, including Braille and large print.
Lastly, conduct training for transportation staff, drivers, and operators to sensitively assist PWDs and handle mobility aids.
In addition to this, it is important for the government and other stakeholders to raise public awareness about the rights and needs of PWDs in regard to transportation through awareness campaigns.
Conclusively, persons with disabilities should be able to go to work, school, social events and travel as easily as everyone else.
With a better attitude towards their plight, a more inclusive transport system and accessible infrastructure, this is possible.
As the famous saying goes, disability does not equal inability.