Last week I came to London, from my home in Kenya to attend the first Global Disability Summit. The Summit, co-hosted by the UK and Kenyan Governments and the International Disability Alliance, is a significant milestone in ensuring that the voice of people living with disability is heard.
As a person who has lived with a life-long disability it was encouraging to see so many organisations sign up to the summit’s Charter for Change. I was particularly pleased to see a commitment to making assistive technologies available and affordable. Assistive aids have had a huge impact on my life and have enabled me to work and be independent.
My disability was the result of a bout of polio when I was eight months old. My mother had to carry me on her back to take me to school for eight years and I used a stick firmly held by both hands, to help me get around once I was a teenager, often it would slip and I would fall over. As well as not having adequate assistive aids, I also faced discrimination. Despite receiving a good education, I struggled to find work as employers didn’t want to take on someone with a disability.
As I have become older, my disability has progressed and now aged 69, I use a wheelchair and need a live-in carer to help me. I am much less independent, as I need to rely on someone else if I want to go out. My disability means it costs more to travel which limits where I can go and how often. I’m lucky, many people who can’t afford to pay a carer or to buy assistive devices such as wheelchairs, get stuck indoors and become very isolated.
This is why in 2002, I started a support and advocacy group called Focus of Disabled Persons. There are 4.4 million people with a disability in Kenya, but they are often invisible in society. I hold meetings in churches and community centres, where disabled people and their families can come, socialise and be directed to appropriate support services. My aim is to raise awareness amongst decision makers, give assistance to people with disabilities of all ages and make sure they get access to any aids and assistive devices they need. Having grown up with a disability when there was little support available, I want to make sure as many people as possible have the skills, knowledge and equipment they need to live their lives to the full.
Things are starting to change in Kenya. There’s now a National Council for Persons with Disabilities which provides funding, job advice and legal services. People with disabilities are becoming recognised as being valuable members of society.
There are one billion people living with a disability globally but often their rights are neglected and they are unable to access the support they need to live well. The summit has provided an opportunity for decision makers to make new commitments which I hope will make a real difference to people with disabilities of all ages.
Jane Miano spoke at the Leave No-one Behind session of the Global Disability Summit, which was facilitated by Age International and HelpAge.