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Gratitude, Celebration and Reflections-International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021

Bernard wearing a grey suit with pink shirt and smiling

Bernard Chiira

Kenya Country Representative (GDIH CIC) and Director Innovate Now (AHI)

This blog post was published on Bernard's blog on medium.com

The theme for this year’s international day for persons with disabilities is leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world!

On this special day I have a lot to celebrate and many reflections to share on what this day means to me!

Gratitude and Celebration

As a young leader working at the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, governance and social justice I am proud to lead innovation, technology and entrepreneurship for disability inclusion in Africa. I am the Kenya country representative for the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) and the director of Innovate Now, Africa’s first Assistive Tech Accelerator program at Amref Health Africa. I also work closely with the government of Kenya at the inter-agency coordinating committee on assistive technology and global disability commitments 2018.

The third of December 2021 is also the second anniversary for Innovate Now! Innovate Now was made possible through the AT2030 project funded by UK Aid to test what works in supporting assistive technology innovators and venture founder to increase access to assistive technology (AT), and establish Kenya as a leading AT innovation hub in Africa. I am proud that the partnerships around Innovate Now are increasing and we will be soon announcing our new partners and funders helping us sustainably scale up Innovate Now to become a leading disability innovation hub in the world!

Despite the huge global challenges brought about by the covid19 pandemic there’s a lot of good and momentum in driving disability inclusion across the world. I celebrate everyone working hard for disability inclusion. Here’s a couple of remarkable initiates that I am working with directly or indirectly, that are bending the arc of humanity towards a more inclusive world:

AT2030 by Global Disability Innovation Hub

AT2030 tests ‘what works’ to improve access to life-changing Assistive Technology (AT) for all; investing £20m over 5 years to support solutions to scale. Led by Global Disability Innovation Hub and funded by UK aid, AT2030 will reach 9 million directly and 20 million more indirectly, driving a lifetime of potential. AT2030 is operational in 35 countries globally.

Innovate Now by GDI Hub and Amref Health Africa
Africa’s first AT accelerator. Innovate Now supports AT validate solutions and business models to increase access to Assistive Technology. The accelerator provides mentorship, networks, venture and entrepreneurship education and innovation grants.

In just under three years we have demonstrated the potential of innovation and entrepreneurship in making assistive technology more accessible and affordable, and worked hand in hand with persons with disabilities to validate new products and business models for the African market. We have built the foundation for more sustainable investments needed to build the assistive technology industry and innovation ecosystem in Africa.

Happy Anniversary to all our AT venture founders, partners, supporters, funders and leaders.

AT Impact Fund

The AT Impact Fund was established to better enable frontier technology solutions to reach people with disabilities in Africa, and to test business models that are most likely to succeed. The AT Impact Fund webinar series: Exploring our current AT pioneers and the future role of AT in the impact investing landscape is helping advocate for more investment into scalable AT ventures globally.

ATscale Global Partnership

ATscale, the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology was launched in 2018 with the ambitious goal of catalyzing action to reach 500 million more people with life-changing assistive technology (AT) by 2030.

Inclusive Innovation Network (+N) by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Australia

A community of innovators, accelerators and investors dedicated to growing the impact of technology on disability inclusion. We believe that technology and entrepreneurship have important roles to play in ending the exclusion of those of us with disabilities.

Access to Education by Kilimanjaro Blind Trust

Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa is equipping blind learners across Africa with the Orbit reader 20, a digital braille assistive device. It is affordable, portable and features 20 refreshable eight-dot braille cells. It is a book reader and a note-taker using an SD card. It can freely and easily communicate between blind and sighted individuals through Bluetooth. KBTA is working to ensure every learner with any kind of visual impairment has access to quality education.

Digital accessibility for persons with disabilities by Standard by inABLE and KEBs

In a multi-stakeholder driven approach, Kenya becomes one of the first if not the first in Africa to draft the National ICT accessibility standard. The initiative, which is a collaboration between inABLE.org and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), will see people living with disabilities and old persons access usable digital accessibility in both private and public sectors.

inABLE also power’s the inclusive Africa conference, a platform dedicated to promote the advancement of digital accessibility and computer assistive technology in Africa.

We the 15 Campaign

WeThe15 is a global movement, which was founded by a coalition of organizations from sport, human rights, policy, communications, business, arts and entertainment, uniting to change attitudes and create more opportunities for persons with disabilities, as well as improve mobility and accessibility.

NCPWD Career Portal by Leonard Cheshire and National Council for Persons with Disabilities Kenya

NCPWD Career Portal is a digital platform created to support persons with disabilities in their efforts to grow their careers by providing them with opportunities to gain relevant skills and find suitable jobs in industries/roles that they are interested in. The project is being coordinated by the Innovation-to-Inclusion (i2i) programme. The platform is powered by technology from Fuzu, East Africa’s fastest-growing career development platform, which will help match individuals with learning modules, jobs and blog content that is tailored to their needs. Aside from NCPWD, i2i and Fuzu, a number of prestigious organizations have mobilized resources and personnel to help make this platform a reality

Impact Sourcing by Stepwise

As an outgrowth of Cure International, StepWise Inc. was launched in 2020 to leverage the untapped potential of people from disadvantaged communities, including women, the chronically unemployed, and those with physical disabilities, to be a digitally-distributed workforce solution for companies of all sizes.

Global Disability Summit

In 2018, the government of Kenya and the Government of the United Kingdom co-hosted the world’s first Global Disability summit, where both countries re-committed themselves to disability inclusion in the global development agenda, with new vigor and impetus.

So for Kenya, where are we on those commitments and what can we look forward to? Here’s a link to a status report and here’s a video of Kenya’s president giving some remarks on the progress Kenya has made.

Disability Inclusion Lab Light of the World

The Disability Inclusion Lab is established by Light for the World as a space for NGOs, disabled people organizations, governments and businesses to come together to make disability inclusion work.
Together, the stakeholders develop practical solutions to overcome the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating equally in development and society.

WHO and GDI Hub Assistive Products Specifications Guide

This first compilation of the Assistive Products Specifications includes products selected from the Priority Assistive Products List and covers mobility, hearing, vision, communication, cognition and self-care. The products range from clubfoot braces and wheelchairs to hearing aids, alarm signalers and audio-players.

The main aim of the Assistive Products Specifications is to ensure countries get supply of good quality and affordable assistive products for all who need them. Each Assistive Products Specification describes the functional and performance requirements that can be used as a model to guide manufacturing and procurement.

The project was made possible by FCDO through AT2030.

Clinton Health Access Initiative AT Product Narratives

In 2019, CHAI completed five market analyses — called product narratives — on wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetics, eyeglasses, and digital devices and related services to better understand the challenges in accessing assistive products and services in low- and middle-income countries and identify interventions required to overcome supply and demand barriers. The product narratives were developed under the UK Aid-funded AT2030 programme in support of the ATscale Strategy. In addition, Atscale hopes that others working in the sector will benefit from the data and evidence provided by these analyses to inform implementation and investments in AT products and related services.

UNICEF Disability-friendly supplies

UNICEF focuses on three key activities to ensure disability-inclusive supplies are available and accessible worldwide. First, the organization is analyzing and updating its products in the UNICEF Supply Catalogue to ensure they are disability-friendly. Second, UNICEF is introducing new assistive technology to programmes worldwide, such as the new disability-friendly latrine. This work involves collaborating with WHO and partners to develop guidance for AT suppliers who produce products and humanitarian staff who procure the products. Finally, UNICEF is increasing advocacy efforts to gain a global consensus for assistive technology.

Reflections

As we have seen, the AT sector is shaping up globally and a lot is being done by various actors to accelerate access and empowerment of persons with disabilities. The tide is changing but a lot still remains to be done.

If the UN international day for persons with disabilities was a person, then today would be their 29th birthday! Let’s look at it through the lens of this persona for a moment. A 29 year old young woman with a disability, living in one of the 54 beautiful African countries, let me biased and pick Kenya! What is her life like? Is she happy, free, hopeful, independent and well? Are her odds better in 2021?

Before we build this persona out, let’s contextualize and fact-check a little bit!

In 2021, the world is at the peak of a global pandemic! According to WHO, globally, as of 4:57pm CET, 3 December 2021, there have been 263,563,622 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 5,232,562 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 2 December 2021, a total of 7,864,123,038 vaccine doses have been administered.

A new variant Omicron has emerged and while little is known about Omicron, it’s threatened the gains made to fight Covid19, as it is said to be the most lethal variant yet, capable of compromising even vaccinated people. The pandemic had disrupted every aspect of life as we know it. It has exposed grave inequalities and injustices, with African countries experiencing vaccine apartheid and the most vulnerable people especially person with disabilities left exposed to the worst impact of the pandemic, loss of life, livelihoods and compounded inaccessibility to basic goods and services.

Let’s go back to our persona, we’ll call her Heri. Heri is lives in Kenya. She has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She’s overcome many barriers to attain a law degree. She lives at home with both of her retired parents who are all elderly, her mom is 65 and her dad 71.

Heri feels scared, she’s a afraid of getting infected with Covid19 and she’s also worried that her elderly parents might get sick too. So she stays mostly indoors and even stops going for her pupilage for a while. For her social distancing is an additional barrier as she relies on caregivers for assistance on tasks that she can not perform on her own. Her safety from the virus is directly dependent on how her caregivers safeguard against Covid19.

Heri has a great ambition to become an advocate of the high court of Kenya! She wants to be a human rights lawyer, so she can fight for the rights of persons with disabilities. She’s sad to see persons with disabilities left on their own, during the pandemic, with no prioritized access to testing, treatment and vaccination.

Unfortunately, Heri does not live to see her 30th birthday. She gets infected with Covid19 and after a long battle with post-covid19 complications she dies of hospital acquired sepsis, leaving her family with thousands of dollars in medical debt.

Heri represents the potential, ambitions and hope of millions of persons with disabilities across Africa. It is in deed a mater of life and death! The world and Africa must act now to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities.

This pandemic is our moment in history to do get disability inclusion right. It is our one chance to take the leap into an inclusive future for all.

Here’s four tips that can help us move faster towards disability justice and into that world:

Governments: End vaccine apartheid for all countries and immediately prioritize persons with disabilities for covid19 response: testing, treatment and vaccination. Increase Investment in (accurate data and mapping disability needs, planning and annual budgets) and implement access to assistive technology and disability inclusive healthcare across national universal healthcare programs.

Investors and funders: increase investment for disability innovation and support ventures building solutions for AT, Accessibility and inclusion across all stages of development, especially early stage (pre-seed and seed) where access to capital is still a big gap. Increase investment into financing models that reduce out of pocket expenditure for persons with disabilities to access AT and healthcare.

Collaborate more: Achieving Disability Inclusion and disability justice will take all of us. Actors must collaborate more: share knowledge, date, insights and expertise and jointly build an enabling environment for disability inclusion to thrive. It takes all of us!

Happy international day of persons with disabilities 2021!