Master’s student, Dennis Mugambi Njue, shares his views on disabilities, social protection and human rights in Kenya.
My name is Dennis Mugambi Njue and I am currently pursuing my master’s degree in human rights through the Krystle Kabare Scholarship at the University of Nairobi.
I am originally from Mbeere South District which is in Embu County, Kenya. As a result of mumps, I became Deaf at a young age and went to primary and high schools for Deaf children, where I was taught Kenyan sign language.
I graduated from the University of Nairobi with a BA in Psychology and Conflict and Peace Studies in 2018. My degree inspired me to advocate for social equality and to change attitudes towards disability.
What have you found most interesting so far about your master’s degree in human rights?
What I find most interesting in my course is the principles of human rights and how crucial they are while developing and implementing policies, especially for protecting people with disabilities from discrimination and promoting their dignity.
One approach in Kenya over the last four years has been disability mainstreaming, which has featured in the government’s key strategic documents. Mainstreaming seeks to move away from quite a segregated approach to policy, that stigmatised issues around disabilities, to bring issues faced by people with disabilities into broader policy discussions.
I am also looking at how creating awareness and changing perceptions can improve the lives of people with disabilities in Kenya. For example, using social media to highlight the importance of supporting and integrating people with disabilities into society.
In your experience, how much support is there for people with disabilities in Kenya?
In terms of education, while Kenya has free schools, these do not always cater to the needs of children with disabilities. Kenya has a special education system for people with disabilities; however, these schools are not free, and many families can’t afford to send their children there. Even in these private schools, there can be issues. In my own experience in a Deaf school, some new teachers didn’t know sign language.
Unfortunately, Deaf students have to work harder to succeed in the Kenyan education system. To begin with, this is partly because 97 percent of Deaf children’s parents here do not know sign language, leading to limited development at home. Then in school years, limitations accommodating pupils with disabilities hinder their growth and personal development. The impact of poor-quality education is huge. It can result in Deaf students performing poorly in exams, which can result in missing out on further education and employment opportunities in the future. Combined, these factors can mean that many people ultimately face financial difficulties and can become stuck in the poverty trap.
What made you choose human rights as your area of study for the scholarship?
Human rights belong to everyone, and our future children with disabilities deserve human rights. As one of the most disempowered minorities in our society, they need better legal protection so that they can live their lives freely and without discrimination from the system.
In addition, women with disabilities are a particularly disempowered group here in Kenya. Even in the legal system, if they are affected by crime, they are sometimes not listened to because of their disability, and people in the court of law can be prejudiced against them and not trust their accounts.
In addition to better legal protection, people with disabilities deserve better access to social protection. Access to information on the availability and process of applying for social protection should be simple and clear to understand so that people know how to apply for benefits, and are able to do so regardless of their disability so that they are not left behind.
How does your disability affect your education now?
During my bachelor’s, I initially faced challenges that made me feel isolated at university. For example, I had no access to interpretation services during my first year. I had no lecturers or colleagues who knew sign language. For the first time in my life, I was completely alone, being the only Deaf student in a fully hearing world. But despite the challenges, eventually, with support from my lecturers, interpreters, and fellow students, I adjusted well to campus life.
Although it has been favoured by the majority of the students, online learning due to the pandemic during my master’s has been challenging. Following lectures in person is much easier than online classes for a Deaf student. Often I’ve had to attend online classes without video due to internet connectivity issues, meaning that I am unable to lipread – so there is no way for me to follow lecture content. I’m very pleased that we are now attending lectures in person again!
What is next for you after you complete your master’s?
The opportunity of the Krystle Kabare Scholarship has put me on track to achieve my dream, which is to progress through academia and get a PhD.
Looking further into the future, I’d like to write a book focusing on the social protection, human rights, Deaf education, and politics around disability and inclusion. There is such a limited number of disabled authors writing about disability, and it is essential that we bring to the literature real experiences of living with a disability.
Diversity in education Kenyan sign language as a medium of instruction in schools for the deaf in Kenya
The responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article rests solely with its author, and publication does not constitute an endorsement by the organisations to which they are affiliated.