The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated countries worldwide with illness, fear and economic instability. However, its impact has not been equal for everyone. The pandemic has affected persons with disabilities (PwDs) disproportionately. More than 15% of the global population are PwDs, 80% of whom live in developing countries. More than 2.2% (0.9 million people) of the population are PwDs in Kenya, according to the 2019 census.
Connection Between Poverty and Disability
There is undoubtedly a strong correlation between poverty and disability. According to The Aga Khan University, approximately 67% of PwDs in Kenya live in poverty. Before COVID-19, Kenyans living with disabilities already faced pre-existing challenges in accessing health care, education and the workforce. Now, these challenges are deeper than ever as a consequence of the measures to control the virus transmission and expansion, and their impact on the socio-economic aspects of life and service delivery.
Organizations and individuals all over the world have racked their brains to find innovative solutions that could make life easier again after COVID-19. However, most of these organizations and individuals did not have PwDs in mind. This problem is not exclusive to the COVID-19 era. For persons with disabilities, especially in developing countries like Kenya, solutions and innovation itself are limited for most present-day challenges.
Concerned by this situation, UNDP in Kenya decided to launch an innovation challenge. It Is inviting solutions responding to the socio-economic challenges experienced by PwDs during the pandemic. This way, UNDP Kenya seeks to harness the power of innovation for disability inclusion and social cohesion to promote a stable and secure environment for PwDs to thrive.
UNDP invited registered Kenyan organizations or companies in order to provide those with disabilities access to education, employment and other opportunities. UNDP encouraged the applicants to focus on one of five different areas; Access to Technology, Access to Information, Access to Health Care, Access to Education, Access to Opportunities and Access to Financial Products/Services.
Submissions of applications emerged all over the country and after a rigorous evaluation process, UNDP selected five winners. The five winning organizations received a grant of $8,000 to assist in further development and scale-up of the solutions.
5 Innovative Solutions Improving the Lives of PwDs in Kenya
- Action for Children with Disabilities (ACD) – Action for Children with Disabilities (ACD) came up with a solution that tests the use of Virtual reality (VR) to support children with intellectual disabilities to learn. The organization aims to develop educational video tutorials for children with Autism Spectrum disorders. It also uses VR to create simulations on the challenges that PwDs face in their daily lives. It will use this to conduct community sensitization and awareness sessions with the community members.
- Kytabu – Kytabu began in 2012. Its goal is to enable African learning institutions and students to leverage education technology platforms by providing and integrating education content to PwDs. Kytabu’s innovative solution adds a mobile-based school management system to the institutions supporting deaf learners. It is helping them to track the learner’s progress and needs. It is also producing reports to share with stakeholders and partners. This data would likely lead to better decision-making in Special needs education’s resources.
- Riziki Source – Riziki is a social enterprise that seeks to connect PwDs in Kenya to job opportunities. It created an automatic job-seeking database of people with different kinds of disabilities looking for jobs. Users can download the mobile app and easily register to the platform through their website or by text message, in case they don’t have internet access. Thanks to the platform, employers can easily connect with PwDs seeking jobs and understand the best way to interview and work with PwDs.
- Signs Media Kenya – In 2011, Signs Media began with the mission to educate, inform and entertain in sign language by enhancing disability and deaf culture. Signs TV developed an app called “Assist All.” It allows deaf people to access sign language interpreters on demand, facilitating communication where it may not be available. The app counts with a sign language interpreters’ database accessible by the touch of a button through a virtual interface.
- The Action Foundation (TAF) – TAF is a youth-led organization that began in 2010. It works with communities and governments to help PwDs. It aims to launch the “Somesha Stories project,” a platform that enables accessible child-friendly stories for early literacy and inclusive education. Learners will be able to access educational content specifically designed for all persons at their schools, from the comfort of their homes and via the Somesha Mobile-Based App. The Somesha stories come in audio, visual, print and sign language formats, hence allowing every child to learn.
All these great solutions not only validate Kenya as a hub of knowledge and innovation, but they also show technological transformation is about improving each citizen’s experience, leaving no one behind.
Innovation has and definitely will continue to have a great role in Kenya’s response and recovery to the COVID-19 crisis. Investing in building solutions that can improve the lives of PwDs represents a massive opportunity for Kenya to ensure that its growth is genuinely inclusive and transformational, something crucial for the future of the country.
– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno