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How people with special needs can help grow the economy

Equal employment opportunities, training and social economic inclusion of PWD in Kenya are among the factors that can contribute to the reduction of poverty.


Persons with special needs and disabilities (PWDs) continue to face significant challenges in relation to employment and access of business opportunities. This is going on despite a provision in the Constitution of Kenya (2010) that all persons have a right to basic education, which leads to long-term and sustainable ways of self-reliance.

PWDs are denied basic human rights, they lack access to basic education and vocational training and as a result, they miss job opportunities. Employers discriminate against PWD as slow and less intelligent.

This situation can be reversed if laws and policies that govern people with special needs are implemented. First, make education accessible and equal to all citizens.  Easy access to basic education and vocational training enables PWD and everyone else to provide for themselves the basic needs, thus tackling poverty.

The ministry of education encourages inclusion of children with physical and mental disabilities in mainstream learning institutions.

In recent years, extra funding has been extended to special education and schools for children with disabilities. Largely, things are different on the ground. Getting a mainstream/public school with special education teachers and facilities that aid ease of movement in the schools is dismal.

A section of the population has opted for private schools as they seek better quality education, the high cost of fees notwithstanding. According to the Social Protection draft policy, about 46 per cent of all Kenyans live below the poverty line, while 19 per cent live in extreme poverty. How many can be able to afford the costs in private schools?

Inclusion of PWD at Workplace

According to Jane Doe, an employee at Safaricom, “the company has made it easy for special needs workers to perform. They have in place practices for internal and external inclusion of PWDs. For example, last year Safaricom launched Mpesa services for the visually impaired customers.” Safaricom has an inclusive work environment as its workforce constitutes 1.7 per cent PWD. Doe attests to inclusivity at her workplace but says it is a struggle to get a spot in many other places.

This great gap could not be felt if we were on track for Vision 2030 rapid economic growth, tackling poverty and having a high-quality life. Equal employment opportunities, training and social economic inclusion of PWD in Kenya are among the factors that can contribute to the reduction of poverty. With good strategies in place, organizations and managers can help create inclusive work environments.

In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released on 9 March 2018, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people in the US with disabilities increased from 28.1 per cent in February 2017 to 30.5 per cent in February 2018. For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 72.8 per cent to 73.5 per cent over the same period.

“The gains seen by people with disabilities this month, and over the last 23 months, have far exceeded gains seen by people without disabilities. This suggests that as we approach full employment, employers may be tapping groups that were previously overlooked,” said Andrew Houtenville, PhD, associate professor of economics at UNH and research director of the Institute on Disability.

Way forward

If we are to achieve the Big four agenda – manufacturing, universal health care, affordable housing and food security – all Kenyans must participate actively in the society, and this will boost economic growth and reduce the poverty cycle.

Experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) explain ways for employers to create opportunities for people with disabilities.

Adjust mindset and workplace culture

Begin by setting the tone at the top. Work with your leadership team and commit to a vision of an accessible and inclusive workplace.

Review and refine job roles and workplace processes

In situations where potential employees do not fit into traditional job roles, or when current employees become disabled, organizations can review job requirements and workplace processes.

Relook organization’s programmes and practices

Have a clear and objective performance management process that ensures all employees are fairly considered for training and career development opportunities.

Proper staff training can help dispel wrong assumptions on PWDs’ abilities. Train staff on sensitivity or disability etiquette so they can learn how to effectively work with PWDs.

Improve workplace design and accessibility

Design workstations that are friendly to PWDs. For example, widen the entrance to the workspace and install larger screens for those with visual impairment. Additionally, have proper cable management and accessible plug sockets that will create a safer workplace for all employees.

Samantha Kariuki is a freelance writer based in Nairobi. Email:

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