Too Many Disabled Children in Developing Countries Are Being Denied Their Rights

When given access to their fundamental rights, disabled people can achieve the equality that enables them to make vital contributions to society, improving their lives and the lives of others.

On this UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I want to talk about education, how it helped me, and why it is integral to achieving equality for disabled people.

I know the quality of education I received has had a huge impact on my life. I was born in Mihu, Kenya, in 1969. I was a fit and healthy child before polio struck when I was two.

Superstitious villagers believed my family was cursed and were very cruel towards me following my partial recovery and restricted use of my legs, so we had to relocate to my father's military barracks in Nairobi. Unfortunately, this attitude towards disability is common in much of Africa.

When I was five years old, I was sent off to attend Joyland School for the Physically Handicapped, a Salvation Army institute. I loved being there, because it was a community of disabled children, but it was only when I went to secondary school that I was introduced to the 'real world.'

I attended a secondary school for able-bodied children, and as the school was not accessible, I had problems getting to class or even going to the toilet. I wanted to quit many times but my father would not let me, insisting that education was the magical key that would set me up for life. He was right, and this is the kind of encouragement that other children with disabilities need, if they are to stay in education.

After completing A-levels, I studied Education at Moi University in Kenya, graduating with first class honours. At the Moi University graduation ceremony, it is customary to climb the stairs to the stage to receive your award from the President, and with my disability, this was not possible. So, he had to come down the stairs specially, just to present my award to me - it was a moment that gave me great confidence.

After graduation I taught at Machakos Technical College in Eastern Kenya. When I was there, I did not want my students to see me as a person with disabilities, and I know that I achieved this. My previous education gave me the confidence to command attention and authority as a teacher.

I recently spoke about my life and education at an event in the House of Commons called 'An equal start for all: disability and education in low-income countries.' The event highlighted the difficulties that disabled children have growing up in developing countries, especially with regards to accessing education.

At the event, parliamentarians had the chance to hear from people like me who have had to fight prejudice and disadvantage due to our disabilities, about how a quality education can bring immeasurable benefits to our lives. It was also a chance for charities that campaign for disabled people to put pressure on the UK government to act, and put more effort into supporting education for disabled people in developing countries.

I believe that an education is the greatest thing that you can give to someone with a disability. I remember how I battled discrimination, and I am now a mother, teacher, author, and paralympic athlete. I had the opportunity to achieve all of these things because I was fortunate enough to receive a good education and was encouraged by my father to do the best that I could.

When I was growing up and even still today, I did not want sympathy, I wanted opportunity. I wanted to be given the opportunity to prove what I can do for the community, and I know this is what many other disabled people want as well.

But far too many disabled children are denied their rights - around 90% of disabled children in Africa do not go to school, and even UK government international development funds often ignore this terrible situation.

When given access to their fundamental rights, disabled people can achieve the equality that enables them to make vital contributions to society, improving their lives and the lives of others. Please join me in calling for more attention to the plight of disabled children who are excluded from school.


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