Karen Muriuki autism activist in Nairobi

Kenyan activist Karen Muriuki talks about the duties of leaders

6 September 2021 | Advocacy

This article is based on an August 2021 interview by Margaret Waweru-Kihara of Netplus with Nairobi-based autistic activist Karen Muriuki.

Who are People with Disabilities?

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol (CRPD, 2006, A/RES/61/106) defines persons with disabilities to “include 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”.

What are some of the barriers they encounter?

They face particular protection risks, including a heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, and high levels of stigma. They have difficulties accessing humanitarian assistance, education, livelihoods, health care and other services. They may be denied certain legal rights, and are often excluded from decision making processes and leadership opportunities.

Do you think there’s adequate advocacy in terms of protection of people with disabilities?

Unfortunately in there’s not enough advocacy in in the area of social protections as a result in which I’ll highlight the risks that persons with disabilities face.

Persons with disabilities may experience difficulty in moving, hearing, seeing, communicating or learning. Their disabilities may include injuries or chronic illnesses.

Persons with disabilities face a variety of barriers: these may be physical and environmental; attitudinal; policy; or in communication.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience violence, including: sexual and domestic abuse; exploitation by family members; discrimination; and exclusion from access to humanitarian assistance, education, livelihoods, health care, a nationality, and other services. Women, older individuals, children, and LGBTI+ persons who have a disability are doubly exposed to such risks.

Persons with disabilities are likely to be more at risk in dispersed rural and urban settings and recent displacement sites, because communities in these locations are less cohesive and community protection mechanisms may be weaker.

Persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities tend to be less identifiable than persons with physical and sensory disabilities. As a result, programmes are less likely to address their needs and registration procedures are more likely to overlook them.

In terms of policy, what do you think is the best option that our leaders can enhance protection persons with disabilities?

I’ll begin by quoting Article 28 of the CRPD, which states that countries agree that people living with disability and their families have the right to adequate standards of living, including basic needs meaning food, shelter and clothing. They’re to make sure these things are available without discrimination on the basis of disability.

Countries must agree that people with disabilities also have the right to social protection. They are to take appropriate steps to give people with disability access to disability related services and devices and the same services as other people to clean water, programs that helps people get out of poverty, public housing and pensions.

In matters policy on enhancing protections, our leaders must ensure that persons with disabilities have access to justice, health, basic needs, etc. as per the CRPD provisions, i.e. Article 28, 20, 13, 12, 25.

Have our current leaders failed in protecting People with Disabilities?

A whole lot, because they simply don’t know what disabilities are and the fact they’ve refused to involve people with disabilities in leadership and decision making policies.

They think that persons with disabilities are there just for pity, which is sad. Discrimination and exclusion happens as a result.

What factors will show that there’s protection of people with disabilities?

Accessible accommodation. Access to health. Access to basic needs. Ensuring there’s non-discrimination on the basis of disability. Accessibility to disability-related services.

What’s your vision for the protection people with disabilities?

Equal access to justice. Access to health. Adequate awareness is required. Reasonable accommodations. Access to public housing for transitioning disabled teenagers and adults.

Karen Muriuki is the founder of Kenyans Living With Autism and an active participant in international disability rights initiatives.