3 December is the annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development and increase awareness of their situation. This year, the theme for this day is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”

Mount Kenya University - MKU, a UNAI member institution in Kenya that also serves as the UNAI SDG Hub for Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, has been fostering over the past few years the inclusion and protection of persons with disabilities through a wide range of concrete actions, and in partnership with several stakeholders, at the local, national, regional and international levels. Target 10.2 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls to “empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all” irrespective of variables such as disability.

Along these lines, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the leading international instrument around this subject, underlines that education should serve as a means to protect such persons while also serving as a mechanism to counter exploitation, violence, and even abuse against them. Moreover, the Convention stresses that education “at all levels” should promote an “attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities.”

More specifically, the Convention states that countries worldwide “shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education.” It is clear then, that institutions of higher education have an unequivocal responsibility when it comes to not only working towards accessibility but ensuring that persons with disabilities do enjoy and fully exercise their human rights in accordance with applicable International Law standards.

In this framework, MKU has continued its commitment and ink progressive strides towards inclusive measures and bridging the gap among the differently-abled students, as the institution refers to them. The disabilities of MKU students range from physical to visual, hearing, and other types of impairment. For this UNAI SDG Hub, these students have what it takes to competitively win the scarce opportunities available.

For the university, it is all about having the “right and conducive environment of learning.” “At MKU, we work hard towards reducing inequalities,” said Professor Deogratius Jaganyi, Vice-Chancellor. MKU is involved in an active outreach campaign to avoid discrimination against this group of students. From a dedicated awareness day to a partnership with the National Council for Persons with Disabilities. 

From an orientation and mentorship ceremony for new students abled differently to donating dozens of devices that serve as self-contained book readers, note-takers, and braille displays for visually impaired students together with Kilimanjaro Blind Trust Africa. The latter, which included training for university staff, marked the first institution of higher education in the region to move from the use of the manual braille machines to the new, improved ones.

MKU Co-Founder Dr. Jane Nyutu has emphasized the university’s commitment to delivering quality services to all students. In addition to offering a Bachelor's program in Social Work and Administration that addresses issues on disabilities and inclusion and a Master's program in Special Needs Education, MKU started a TV program titled Beyond the Limit, which is aired in Kenya every Saturday.

The program raises issues that society has ignored for a long time, for which there is no alternative but to engage. Through it, learning is provided on ways to fight prejudices and wrong attitudes that can disable the dreams of persons with disabilities. So far, the program has impacted many lives by creating awareness of the challenges that differently-abled persons face, the possible solutions, and the psychosocial support systems available for them.

“Recognizing all the rights of persons with disabilities serves as an enabler for the societies to adjust and be much more accommodative regarding the socio-economic development aspects concerning them. Therefore, persons with disabilities can indeed be able to build resilience while feeling part of the community without being discriminated against,” highlighted Dr. Serah Kimaru, Coordinator at MKU Persons Enabled Differently.

By observing their rights, commented Dr. Kimaru, “persons with disabilities can no longer be considered a burden to the society.” Instead, the expert mentioned, “they strive for quality life without much dependence on other persons' mercy. Therefore, inclusive societies should actively encourage the harnessing of different talents and gifts among persons with disabilities”. “They do not deserve our pity but rather, our utmost respect and consideration,” she remarked.