By Brian Ndiritu
The International Day for Persons with Disabilities is a day set aside by the United Nations since 1992 as a day to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of the society and development, and to increase awareness of their situation in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. It is celebrated on December 3rd every year. This year’s theme was Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world.
In keeping with the day’s theme, JKUAT alongside other five public and private universities, participated in the launch of the EmployAble Programme an initiative of the Standard Chartered Bank and Light of the World an NGO that is involved in matters disability improvement in areas eye health, independent living inclusive education and disability rights.
The EmployAble Programme seeks to train youths with and without disability in universities and TVET institutions in soft skills to improve their employability chances and entrepreneurship for those that wish to go the business route.
The event was graced by Mr. Kariuki Ngare CEO Standard Chartered Bank Kenya, Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura and Dr. Salome Mukami a leading voice in matters disability inclusion and accessibility in Kenya.
‘Mr. Bob Collymore (deceased) asked me to explain disability inclusion in five minutes. And I gave him the example of a party. I told him inclusion is inviting me who is disabled to a party and incorporating my own dancing style in the party to avoid feeling left out.’ Dr. Salome said.
The Standard Chartered CEO said it was time employers started embracing persons with disability as it was discriminatory not to do so. Citing his own encounters with persons with disabilities, Mr. Ngare decried how small things taken for granted by able bodied people affect persons with disabilities such as knowing when to alight in a lift for a person with visual impairment. It was then resolved that the lifts should have voice activated buttons so that those with visual impairment can know when to alight from a lift without having to depend on anyone. The same applies for Standard Chartered ATM points that repeat the number aloud for a visually impaired client to complete a transaction with ease.
Members of the academic fraternity from the universities present at the event called for more strategic partnerships between the universities and the public and private sector so as to boost the credibility of courses being offered in institutions of higher learning and reduce the tendency of companies having to retrain their new employees because of them (students) not being up to date with the current trends in the industries they seek employment in such as the banking industry, represented by Standard Chartered. They also called on the banks and the private sector in general to push for the expansion of the manufacturing sector in Kenya so as to absorb the high number of graduates from universities into the job market.
Like JKUAT, the universities present at the event said that entrepreneurship is a compulsory unit so as to equip students with business knowledge and skills if they wished to go the entrepreneurship route. They also pleaded with the financial sector to support homegrown industries by helping in the commercialization of innovations from universities and giving them collateral free loans since most students did not have much to their name to give up as security to access bank loans to start and grow their businesses.
Nominated Senator Hon. Isaac Mwaura challenged institutions of higher learning to do more to be disability inclusive, and while at it gave grim statistics of the number of students in the 74 public and private universities who had disabilities. According to recently submitted report, the number of children in educational institutions keep declining with every level attained such that at the entry level (primary) the number of children is sizeable but by the time the children get to university, the number has reduced to almost insignificant figures. Given the high dropout rate, not all children with disabilities that enroll from elementary school finish the schooling system up to university. This means that not many move on to complete school and join the job market. The Senator emphasized on the need for quantity (increase in number of disabled university students) and quantity (graduating with good grades to guarantee a job in the labor market.
The road to building back better has just began.