OPINION: Building back better towards a disability inclusive world

OPINION: Building back better towards a disability inclusive world

By Calvin Omondi

An article by Maya Sabatello in the American journal of Bioethics, while evaluating disability, health disparities and COVID-19 quipped that the COVID – 19 pandemic has highlighted another systemic vulnerability for people with disabilities.

While decrying the need to develop more deliberate efforts to enhance accessibility to service provision, Maya remarks that the COVID -19 pandemic has highlighted how deadly co-care is and this ought to provoke urgency for the reforms in the system considering that people with disability were clustered under the most vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 pandemic.

While developing the key thematic focus for this year’s day of people with disability, the significance of fostering an inclusive culture that “responds to the urgent needs of people with disability” was recognised by stakeholders.

The key theme for this year, “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World” offers us an opportunity to reflect and review the progress made towards the inclusion of people with disability and to chart new frontiers for ensuring that people with special needs are catered for based on their needs.

The hackneyed phrase since the inception of the day has been inclusion and integration; the salient theme has been the establishment of an “enabling environment” for people with special needs in order to enhance their independence yet almost 3 decades later, the talk of accessibility to information, education opportunities, healthcare and even economic opportunities still remains a mirage in the society.

In an evaluation of the current challenges in disability mainstreaming, the problem of “execution gap” has been identified as the culprit. Key policy provisions have been proposed the globe over to implement strategic inclusion measures yet amidst this, the globe is still struggling with the implementation of these key policy pronouncements. As we reflect upon this year’s theme, there is need to have candid debate on the inflection between policy pronouncements and the implementation gaps.

The point of inflection in the disability mainstreaming is anchored on having a strong framework of implementing the policies that have been ratified already. Within the context of Kenya for instance, the disability draft policy, despite laying a vast foundation for inclusion, still remains unimplemented meaning that the inclusion debate is not entirely a lack of policy guideline, but rather, the missing implementation scaffold for how do you explain that almost 15 years after its ratification, there are still buildings without ramps?

How do you explain hospitals without sigh language interpreters despite the requirement for institutions to develop an internal Disability Action Plan? The policies are present, the implementation waits!

As we reflect upon this year’s theme of building back, the stakeholders need to remind themselves that foundations have been laid – policies have been framed to address most of the disability issues, deliberate conversations need to be riveted on building upon the key policy foundations proposed.

It is imperative on the stake actors, in collaboration with the non-state actors to model a strategy of ensuring that these policies are actualised. Whether in terms of education, healthcare, information accessibility or economic opportunities, building back (and sustainably) is an imperative action that has to be pursued today.

This pandemic comes as a chance to restructure our model of addressing key disability issues in the society. While we celebrate the strides, we lament on the slow implementation strides.

Calvin Omondi is a Special Education practitioner (teacher) and a post graduate student at the Kenyatta University in Nairobi.