This is part 1 of a 3-part series on social protection and the empowerment of persons with disabilities in Kenya, written by Dennis Mugambi Njue. As a deaf student growing up in Kenya, Dennis has experienced many challenges and seen the potential and shortcomings of social policies and social protection programmes. He is currently pursuing an MA in Human Rights at the University of Nairobi and was the 2021-2022 Krystle Kabare Scholarship beneficiary.
In Kenya, the deaf community faces numerous challenges due to discrimination, communication barriers, and limited access to essential services. Some 85% of deaf people face these challenges, which has led to social inequality and poverty. They are also often marginalised and isolated, which hinders their social participation and inclusion.
Social protection is a crucial tool to promote positive change, ensuring the well-being and rights of the deaf community in Kenya. It is a fundamental human right that promotes equality and inclusivity through social support and empowerment.
Challenges Faced by the Deaf Community in Kenya
Communication barriers result in a lack of interaction between the deaf and hearing communities, leading to gaps in information, access to services, and opportunities. This inequality perpetuates the cycle of poverty and social exclusion.1 For instance, just 5% of deaf people worldwide have access to sign language interpretation (WFD, 2019, Pg 30). While there is a lack of data on such access in Kenya, there are undoubtedly significant roadblocks to communication that mirror the global data.
Access to quality education is another significant challenge for the deaf community in Kenya. Fewer than 10% of deaf children in Kenya have access to quality education, compared to 85.4% of hearing children (African Disability Rights Yearbook, 2015). There is a lack of necessary resources, trained special teachers, and inclusive teaching methodologies that cater to the needs of deaf students. Mainstream schools often lack sign language interpreters, limiting deaf children’s access to education.
Employment opportunities are also limited for deaf people in Kenya who experience higher levels of unemployment and financial insecurity. Employers often lack awareness of their capabilities, leading to minimal accommodation for their communication needs and many facing discrimination in the workplace. These factors create obstacles to securing stable and fulfilling employment in both the private and public sectors. Despite a legal requirement that 5% of employees in public and private sectors must be persons with disabilities, this group makes up a low 1.4% of public servants. This disparity highlights the gap in disability mainstreaming efforts.2
In addition to social stigma, access to physical infrastructure and services cause challenges. Public buildings and amenities lack essential accessibility features, such as sign language interpretation or visual aids. This severely limits peoples’ ability to access and navigate public spaces, making it difficult for them to engage fully in society. Just 3% of public buildings in Kenya are considered accessible for persons with disabilities,3 highlighting the barriers to participating fully in public life.
Access to Education
Enhancing access to education is critical to breaking the cycle of exclusion and empowering the deaf community in Kenya. Recognising this need, the government has emphasised that education is a universal right, especially for persons with disabilities. For example, Article 54 of the Constitution articulates the rights of persons with disabilities to access integrated educational institutions and facilities aligned with their interests and needs (GOK, 2010). The Ministry of Education in Kenya has consequently established guidelines like the Free Primary Education (FPE) policy (2003), Special Needs Education (SNE) policy (2009), and Sessional Paper No. 14 of 2012, emphasising equitable access and quality education for individuals with disabilities.
The Education Assistance Programme under The National Council for Persons with Disabilities Act 2003, is a current government initiative that plays a crucial role in improving deaf people’s access to education in Kenya. This initiative is designed to enhance the enrolment, retention, and completion of education for individuals with disabilities, with a focus on deaf individuals and their families. By offering financial support that covers school fees, hearing aids, assistive devices, and transportation costs, this program has helped to alleviate the financial burdens associated with education.
Ensuring sign language interpretation in the public sector, particularly education, is vital for disability inclusion and improving services for individuals with hearing impairments. The National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) holds annual sign language training for 350 civil servants in collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Special Education (KISE), targeting police officers, nurses, and social workers, in a six-month Kenyan Sign Language Program. These sessions, both theoretical and practical, have started in eight centres across the country, namely Voi, Machakos, Kitale, Kisii, Nyeri, Isiolo, Nairobi, and Kericho. However, schoolteachers are not included in the training, which can be devastating for students who may lose access to key learning opportunities.
Government initiatives should focus on inclusive education policies, specialised training for teachers proficient in KSL, and ensuring the accessibility of educational resources. This will enable deaf students to receive quality education and empower them to pursue higher education and employment opportunities, contributing their skills and talents to society.
1 The paper titled “WFD Position Paper on Accessibility: Sign Language Interpreting and Translation and Technological Developments” was published in February 2019. (WFD, 2019) https://wfdeaf.org/
2 This can be found in the Kenya Public Service Commission Report 2023.
3 According to the 2019 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Disability Report, only 3% of public buildings in Kenya are considered accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs). The KNBS report also found that PWDs are more likely to be unemployed and to live in poverty than people without disabilities. This suggests that the lack of accessibility in public buildings is just one of the many challenges that PWDs face in Kenya.
African Disability Rights Yearbook. (2015). Access to Quality Education for Persons with Disabilities in Kenya. Retrieved from: http://www.disabilityrights.or.ke/content/kenyan-journalists-want-disability-reporting-guideline-developed
Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena. (2014). The Deaf Community in Nairobi: A Socio-Economic and Psychological Profile. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267431662_The_Deaf_Community_in_Nairobi_A_Socio-Economic_and_Psychological_Profile
Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014. Retrieved from: https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR308/FR308.pdf
Kenyan Sign Language Interpreters Association. Deaf and Sign Language in Kenya. Retrieved from: http://www.kslia.or.ke/deafness/
Kenya Society for Deaf Children. Projects and Programmes. Retrieved from: http://www.ksdc-kenya.org/projects-and-programmes/
The Republic of Kenya. (2018). National Policy on Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.nccd.go.ke/assets/downloads/National-Policy-PWDs-2018.pdf
World Federation of the Deaf. (2019). Sign Language Rights for All! Retrieved from: https://wfdeaf.org/news/un-sign-language-rights-for-all/
Disability Mainstreaming Status Report for FY 2021/2022. Retrieved from: https://ncpwd.go.ke/download/mdas-status-report-2022/?ind=1678707333616&filename=MDAs%20Status%20Report%202022%20FINAL%20(1).pdf&wpdmdl=15709&refresh=65377270308131698132592
The Constitution of Kenya 2010. Retrieved from: https://www.klrc.go.ke/index.php/constitution-of-kenya
The 2019 Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) Disability Report. Retrieved from: https://www.knbs.or.ke/publications/
The Kenya Public Service Commission Report 2023. Retrieved from: https://publicservice.go.ke/index.php/publications/reports
Cover image: University of Reading