Celebrating our super parents: Guest Author Odumbe Kute

It occurred to me yesterday after something I posted that prejudice and discrimination, whether conscious or sub-conscious is a very big deal in our lives.
I’ve been a disability and human rights activist for over 24 years and the one thing that rings true through all the work I’ve done around the world is
this. No amount of legislation, education and advocacy will ever cover for ignorance and prejudice about disability that is experienced every single day
by those affected.

It’s not just the general public. The worst offenders are family, close relatives and people who masquerade as friends. The thing is this. Most people
act the way they do, discriminate like they do, judge like they do, say really stupid and very hurtful things like they do, gossip like they do, show their
prejudice like they do because they’re afraid. You’d like to think that they’re just ignorant, but the truth is that they’re afraid. Afraid of what is
different, afraid of their own insecurities, afraid of how they would cope if they were ever in a situation where they would acquire a disability, give
birth to a child with a disability, have a spouse who acquires a disability or have to care for someone with a disability.

They go around calling themselves “normal”, whatever the hell that is. Here’s a wake up call. At least 1 of every 5 people in the world has a disability
of some sort, most of them hidden and not visible to people. It could be mental health, it could be chronic back pain, it could be sickle cell, it could
be a neurological condition ranging from autism to ADHD, it could be any number of debilitating conditions that people are shit scared to talk about for
fear that they might get labelled or judged. They refuse to look at it as a disability. They only choose to consider disability as a physical and medical
thing.

I haven’t even begun to talk about the hundreds of thousands of parents who have a differently abled child. Our society is brutal. Take the mothers of
kids with a disability from autism to CP, from physical to sensory disabilities. Those who stay in relationships and marriages after giving birth to a
differently abled child are considered the lucky ones. But are they really? Most mothers of children with a disability are single because they’ve been
abandoned at the traffic lights. They’ve been ostracized and become outcasts in their own families, in their marital families, amongst their friends and
relatives. They are seen as vessels of witchcraft, accused of bringing forth defective offspring that sully the gene pool of the family. They not only
have to deal with the challenges their child or children face, they are also as individuals, totally discriminated against and judged for every move they
make.

Let me tell you something about these women. They are amazing. They are Ninjas. They are super women, most of whom have to give up their entire lives,
their hopes and dreams and they sacrifice everything to give their differently abled children the best chance they have in life. They live isolated lives
because of the open and mostly hidden discrimination they face by people closest to them. But the one thing that will never be taken away from them is
their resolve, unconditional love, determination and sheer stubbornness in not giving up their default role as primary care givers to their children.

Most if not all these women go through hell every single day to make sure that their children have the best they can have in life, despite their individual
means. Some can hustle and get a shilling here and there, some don’t have that opportunity. Even for families who would ordinarily be financially stable,
the cost of therapy, medication, education, nutrition – you name it, is capable of bringing them to their knees. Some of these women cry themselves to
sleep every single night praying to their God and asking why he or she has forsaken them. And yet, the next morning, they wake up and do it all over again.

I submit to you that you “normal” people as you call yourselves; you people who have perfect lives that allow you to pass judgement over those who have
a different life; you people who stare and shake your head in disgust at a mother whose autistic child is having a melt-down in a supermarket and saying
that “what is wrong with that mother, her child is spoilt”; you people who have the luxury of not knowing the pain of a mother with a non-verbal autistic
child who is in unbearable pain and distress and unable to express themselves; you people who judge and come out with ignorant and stupid comments like
“that one was bewitched”, “that one’s dowry wasn’t paid and that’s why they have a disabled child”, “that one must have done something in a previous life”
– I submit to you that whichever God you pray to is kind enough to have spared you and gave you the right to be ignorant and stupid. Because if you were
ever in the situation that others are in, society has to be lucky that your not one of the ones who will be able to cope with the burden and responsibility
of caring for and loving someone who is different. Pray to that God of yours to never put you in a situation that you become disabled, a spouse or child
of yours becomes disabled, or you give birth to a child with a disability.

Why have I written this post you may ask. It’s because of the sheer amount of in-box messages I’ve got from parents of children with a disability, mostly
those on the autism spectrum, who were absolutely furious that I had to explain that my son is autistic to parents that commented on my post and took the
“your child is bloody spoilt” view. There is a parallel here to real life where the constant need to explain to those who are discriminatory and prejudicial
has become tedious for them and enough is enough.

Let me conclude with a simple example. A couple of weeks ago, a distressed mother on one of the support groups posted a question asking what they can give
their autistic child to calm them down when she has guests. Let me first say, many kids on the autism spectrum will be on medication, and this should only
be for their benefit and if it improves their development. But the thought of having to medicate your autistic child to make it easier for guests? I was
like – Fuck that. The only intervention needed is to bitch slap those guests out of your house. If your own guests cannot come to terms with the fact that
your child is autistic, they have absolutely no right to be guests in your home, let alone friends.

The dream of saving the disabled Kenyans Author Mugambi Paul.

We’ve come a long way, with disabled Kenyans having more opportunity than ever, but there’s still a long way to go.
Since 1992, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been annually observed on 3 December around the world. The theme for this 2019
IDPD is ‘
Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. The theme focuses on the
empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,
which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognizes disability as a cross-cutting issues, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable
Development Goals.

My hope is that Kenya will reach a point where basic education about acceptance and inclusion is no longer imperative.

I hope we’ll reach a point where it’s commonly understood that people with disability have the same rights to independence, employment, respect and access
to facilities as everyone else.
And I believe finding jobs for the thousands of Kenyans with disability who dearly want work is an essential part of getting there.
As a public policy scholar, I observe, it’s difficult for a blind person to land a job, even with stellar qualifications. A blind person with an associate degree is statistically less likely
to be employed than a sighted high school dropout.

Often, employers who don’t have experience working with disabled persons can’t conceptualize
how a disabled candidate can perform the job’s duties.
It makes matters worse employers who have experienced working with disabled persons are the barriers of enabling the Kenyan disabled to be employed.
As Helen Keller once said, “The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of
seeing people toward them.”
These ungrounded fears contribute to the persistently low employment rates for disabled people.
Statistically as research shows at list in a population of 10 disabled Kenyans 8 are not employed.

To shift attitudes and make a difference — more people with disability need to be supported in the workplace.
I opine that most employers do not know that disabled people aren’t in the workforce, meaning employers are missing out on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, including improvements in profitability,
competitive advantage and innovation.

Moreover, I grew up in a rural set up. where my community never bought into who I was — and made my world not as accessible as they possibly could. I had a great struggle to accomplish my educational journey,
where I faced discrimination and not treated as a peer. I believe right now,
There are many people with disability hoping to engage in work and the community more broadly and receive the opportunities that I was given so naturally.

They deserve the opportunity to be employed and fulfil their potential as much as anyone else in the African community.

I know what I most want to achieve as I celebrated my 22nd Birthday of being Blind.
Secondly my dream is
What I most want is for the community to use IDPwD as a launching pad for further action.

At this year’s celebration I hope governments, individuals and organizations will take the opportunity to commit to one concrete action towards removing barriers to accessibility
and inclusion for disabled Kenyans.
This is not too much to ask!
Get your workplace to give a person with disability a job.

Look for ways you can make your organisation, building or website more accessible for people with disability.

Create a paid internship program to help people with a disability get the skills they need to find a permanent job.

Provide anti-discrimination and bullying training to your staff — particularly those in customer facing roles.

If I can convince one person to roll up their sleeves and create a job for a person with disability or improve accessibility and inclusion within the community
— I’ll be satisfied with my contribution as a public scholar and expert in diversity and inclusion.

The views expressed here are for the author and do not represent any agency or organization.
Mugambi Paul is a public policy and diversity and inclusion expert.