A ramp placed at the rear side of Bungoma County Assembly offices for wheelchair users. Photo by Erick Nakitare

Access and Safety in Public Buildings Remain a Challenge for The Disabled in Kenya

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Mr. Adrian Sakwa, is not happy with the way public buildings are not accessible in Bungoma County. The chairman of Western Kenya Disability Network, a non-governmental organization that brings together People Living with Disabilities (PLWD) within the former Western Province says he has been forced to follow proceedings of meetings within many counties from outside. This is just because he could not access the venue.

“Where the meetings are not held in a tent outside, it has been very difficult for most of our members to attend. Usually a loud speaker is placed outside to allow those on wheel chairs to follow. This is discrimination,” he says.

Sakwa says the tribulations of being confined to a wheel chair are hard enough, but the fact that they cannot access most buildings makes it unbearable.

According to the 2009 census, there are more than 1.3 million Kenyans with disabilities. Despite the large population, most people on wheel chairs, find it hard to access buildings because they have no ramps or have steep access ramps.

 

Contravention of the law

 

A spot check by RoGGKenya revealed that most public offices in the Western counties of Bungoma, Kakamega, Vihiga and Busia lack special access to make them accessible to wheelchair users.

This is in violation of Section 21 of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2002, which was passed in December 2009. The Act determines that all buildings should be accessible to persons with disabilities but not even public buildings comply. Everybody involved in the construction should be held responsible.

RoGGKenya found out that the required ramps are missing in most Government buildings. At the County Assembly of Bungoma, some effort has been made to ensure most of the offices are accessible to people using wheel chairs.

At the main administration block, a ramp is missing in front of the main building. Wheel chair users are forced to go round the building in order to access a ramp that is located at the back. They then have to pass between offices to get to the reception area. The passage between the offices is narrow and only allows access by one person at a time. The situation is the same in Vihiga and Kakamega County Assemblies and people on wheelchairs feel discriminated.

 

Speaker’s gallery

 

The main debating chamber at the County Assembly of Bungoma has access for members living with disabilities. However, it is impossible for someone on a wheel chair to access the Speakers gallery on the first floor. Because it is only accessible through the stairs.

Inside the chamber, special arrangements have been made to accommodate Hon. Martin Wanyonyi, the Member of County Assembly who is living with albinism. Special reading lights have been installed next to his chair to enable him to read.

The County Assembly of Bungoma also has three special toilets that have wide doors for wheel chairs. There are no special toilets in the other three counties.

However, a deaf person visiting the County Assembly of Bungoma will have problems following proceedings as there is no sign language interpreter. There are also no arrangements in place to accommodate those who are blind. The situation is the same in neighboring County Assemblies.

At the Bungoma County Executive offices, the Governor’s office is only accessible by wheel chair using a rear entry.

Most sub county and ward offices in Bungoma, Kakemga, Vihiga and Busia, especially the ones checked by RoGGKenya lack wheel chair access. There are also no special toilets for them.

 

Proposals for improvement

 

Sakwa says although it is not possible to make all parts of a building accessible to a person with a disability, there are basic areas that can be worked on, and one of them is how to get in and out of the building.

He adds that once the ramps have been installed, it is important to have handrails and curbs to prevent falls or slipping on the ramps.

Inside the buildings, he adds, clear paths of movement are important. This is because a person using a wheelchair needs wide hallways while those who use walking canes and walkers need paths that are clear of any obstructions that they might trip on.

He says these are just some of examples of proposals he has presented to decision makers in the counties.

“The purpose of doing all these is to make the life of a PLWD less painful, so anything that can be done, whether inside or outside the house, to achieve this is welcome,” he says.

For many disabled persons, it gets worse when renting an apartment and the entire ground floor is occupied. The usual tasks that come naturally to most of us become a nightmare to PLWD.

Most of the PLWD we spoke to expressed the long and tiresome journey they usually go through whenever they need to rent a residential house.

Hon. Emmanuel Situma, Speaker, County Assembly of Bungoma expressed dissatisfaction with efforts so far made in his county.

“We need to ensure we take seriously the welfare of persons living with disabilities. They should have easy access to all buildings to ensure participate in meetings and get services just like everybody else,” he said.

Situma challenged relevant committees of the County Assembly and individual members to put the executive arm of the County to task to ensure compliance with the law.

He pointed out that a new ultra-modern building that will house all offices is being put up. This, he explains will comply with all requirements that makes it accessible and friendly to PLWD.

 

What journalists should do:

 

  1. Check the accessibility of public offices to those on wheel chairs and other forms of disabilities in my county.
  2. Carry out interviews with representatives of the disabled persons to get their perspectives and understanding of what needs to be done.
  3. Read the persons with Disability Act 2002 and find out if it’s being adhered to.

By Erick Nakitare

 

Erick Nakitare is a journalist and a Communications Officer, County Assembly of Bungoma