National Chairman to the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK) Fred Owako has said over 5 million Kenyans living with various forms of disability are not captured in the country’s official data systems.
Mr. Owako claimed that outdated cultural customs and attitudes had led some communities to hide their relatives who were either physically or mentally challenged, while others opted not to enroll such persons in educational institutions.
“The current figures we have are clearly understated. Without accurate figures state agencies and humanitarian agencies working on projects aimed at benefiting such vulnerable members of the society cannot make proper planning.
There is need for communities and parents to expose all their children living with various forms of disability to government services, education, health care and recreational activities,” he stated.
According to official data, as at 2010, Kenya had an estimated four million people with various forms of mental and physical disabilities, but with only a fraction holding formal jobs.
Speaking at Nakuru Level 6 Hospital where Kenya Reinsurance Company donated 1500 mobility and assistive devices for physically challenged persons under its Niko Fiti Campaign, Owako hailed the Treasury for exempting physically challenged Kenyans from paying income tax, taxes for monthly earnings of Sh150,000 and below.
Organisations owned by people with disability with an annual income of Sh1.8 million are also exempted from income tax since the exemption policy was implemented in April, 2010.
The APDK chairman however observed that significant proportion of people living with disabilities in the County do not know their income tax exemption status leading to reduced savings from their income.
Mr Owako said that the association was committed to ensuring that People living with disabilities (PLWDs) are economically empowered as they risked missing out on Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO), the programme that facilitates persons with disability to participate in government procurement, if they are not tax compliant.
With the AGPO program PLWDs are entitled to get 30 per cent of government tenders. They cannot be awarded government contracts if not complaint on various things with tax compliance one of them.
He said the association was working with the County government to put disabled persons on an equal footing with others, probably more empowered than they are.
To benefit from the income tax exemption individuals have to first register with the National Council for People with Disability (NCPWD) where all tax-relief applications will have to be reviewed before they are forwarded to the KRA’s domestic tax department.
County Executive Committee Member for Youth, Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services Engineer Lucy Kariuki said hawkers and other entrepreneurs living with disabilities in Nakuru can now rest easy after the devolved unit rolled out business License waivers targeting physically challenged persons.
However, the beneficiaries she said will only be spared the wrath of license enforcement officers and askaris while plying their trade from designated public markets or private outlets that have been cleared by the County government as business premises.
Engineer Kariuki said the move had been initiated to encourage and empower persons living with disability to venture into business.
The strategy, she said would also shield the marginalised group from ‘undesirable display of unwarranted force’ from law enforcement agents.
County Government she noted had also launched a Shs 278 million disability fund aimed at aiding PLWDS start income generating activities.
She said there was need for policy change to create equal employment opportunities for persons living with disabilities both in the public and private sector.
“A lot more needs to be done to create equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Time has come to focus on the challenges they face and improve on them. We have made some progress but we are not yet there in mainstreaming disability issues,” she said.
Engineer Kariuki urged private firms to consider employing and empowering persons with disabilities.
“In Kenya, about 4.6 per cent of the population lives with some form of disability, including hearing, speech, visual, mental and physical. Ignorance and prejudice have for a long time excluded people with special needs from work,” said the CEC.
She hailed the government for establishing and equipping four special Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions to train persons with disabilities.
Karen Technical Training Institute for the Deaf, St Joseph Technical Training Institute (Nyangoma), Sikiri Technical Training Institute for the Deaf and Blind and Machakos Institute for the Blind are specifically designed to enhance access by persons with special needs.
Fees for all TVET institutions have also been harmonized to ensure more persons with disabilities gain access.
She challenged the private sector to partner with other stakeholders in providing interest free seed capital and intellectual development programs meant to boost the empowerment programs for PLWDs.
“We have distributed mobility and assistive devices including wheelchairs to disabled people in various parts of the county in conjunction with the National Council of Persons with Disabilities”, she stated.
The CEC affirmed that governor Lee Kinyanjui has further directed the Physical Planning department not to approve construction plans for buildings that lack disability friendly facilities such as ramps, lifts and special washrooms.
The devolved unit has also had consultations with stakeholders in the transport sector to embrace and accommodate people with disabilities by ensuring they travel with ease.
“Our PLWDs must be handled with dignity with regard to access to public transport and public buildings. A unit within the Department of Social Services will be formed to inspect existing buildings and give notice to those lacking these facilities to comply within a specified period,” she added.
Engineer Kariuki also revealed that the county will hire 55 sign language interpreters who will be stationed in all public hospitals across the 11 sub-counties and other public facilities in the region.
“A society that disregards its persons with disabilities is on the path of self-destruction. We want parents to bring out their disabled children and offer them educational opportunities,” said the CEC.
By Anne Mwale and Wayne Mark