By Jeremiah Wanyeki
In the novel Still Alice, published in 2007, Lisa Genova invites us into the life of Alice Howland, a celebrated fifty-year-old Harvard Professor. We watch as the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease creeps upon her and her life disintegrates, yet emboldens us, and finally we are left with the alluring message of tender love.
Somewhere in the novel, Genova writes, “Even then, more than a year earlier, there were neurons in her head, not far from her ears, that were being strangled to death, too quietly for her to hear them. Some would argue that things were going so insidiously wrong that the neurons themselves initiated events that would lead to their own destruction. Whether it was molecular murder or cellular suicide, they were unable to warn her of what was happening before they died.”
Closer home, when Esther Owuor, in 1995, writes about her life in My Life as a Paraplegic, we get to understand, albeit not as fully as the author herself, of the challenges a person with physical disability goes through. And whether it is intellectual disability, physical disability or generally any form of disability, we need to be able to understand it so as to cope with it if we have the impairment or eliminate or mitigate the disabling barriers if we are not directly affected.
Yet, such a tool— a comprehensive, plain account of major aspects of disability— to the reviewer’s knowledge, has been lacking in Kenya. Before, one would run into a cul-de-sac if one wanted to read one single book in Kenya that expounded on the various issues such as types of disabilities, the rights of persons with disabilities, the domestic and international regimes on disability, the pertinent issues on disability, reference to disability organisations in Kenya, special schools for children with disabilities and succinct recommendations on reform issues on disability.
But now we are privileged to have such a type of book: Disability: Law and Rights, by David Teti and Salem Lorot. The book has nineteen chapters and provides a wide-ranging, plainly written account of disability law in Kenya. It elucidates the rights of persons with disabilities as provided under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol, giving them an in-depth appraisal within the Kenyan context. Further, the book discusses pertinent issues on disability that are worth looking at such as inclusive development, reasonable accommodation and provision of assistive devices, discussions on albinism, discussions on disability and poverty and disability and Vision 2030.
The main themes include the various models of disability, types of disabilities, sources of disability law in Kenya, legal rights of persons with disabilities – such as inherent dignity, non-discrimination, accessibility, full and effective participation – a detailed analysis of rights specified in the Convention and women and children with disabilities.
Latter chapters of the book deal with translating obligations into action, for example through habilitation and rehabilitation; accessibility and personal mobility; access to buildings, offices, public and personal service facilities; access of information; access to education and educational facilities; work and employment for persons with disabilities; adequate standards of living and social protection; the right to healthcare; access to justice; offences to persons with disabilities and finally monitoring the rights of persons with disabilities.
Chapter one is introductory, providing the various types of disabilities, the models of disability and causes of disability amongst other aspects. Chapter two provides for the sources of disability law in Kenya. Chapter three discusses the legal rights of persons with disabilities. It offers guidance on steps to be taken when one’s rights have been violated.
Chapters four and five discuss about the rights and principles specified in the CRPD. They discuss such rights as to work, right to access, right to adequate standards of living and social protection, among other rights.
In chapter six, issues of women and children with disabilities are considered. Chapter seven sets the stage for discussion on how the obligations under the CRPD and the Constitution may be translated into action. These are then discussed in chapter eight on habilitation and rehabilitation, accessibility in chapter nine, access to buildings, offices, public and personal service facilities in chapter ten, access to information in chapter eleven, access to education and educational facilities in chapter twelve, work and employment in chapter thirteen, adequate standards of living and social protection in chapter fourteen, the right to health care in chapter fifteen and access to justice in chapter sixteen.
Chapter seventeen provides for offences that may be committed to persons with disabilities. Chapter eighteen provides for mechanisms of monitoring the rights of persons with disabilities, both at the international level and at the national level and by Parliament as it performs its oversight role. The final chapter, chapter nineteen discusses the pertinent issues on disability law in Kenya.
It is commendable that the authors have tried to cover nearly every aspect of disability in Kenya. Various chapters are thinly spread out thus inhibiting a far-reaching and in-depth analysis of issues, and hence some chapters may need to be merged. There is also room for further expansion of pertinent issues on disability in Kenya, an area which is relevant to future researchers on the subject. The authors admit that the issues are not exhaustive.
One of the recurring issues for a book on disability, like this whose format is not accessible to all persons with disabilities, is whether it could be in various formats like Braille, audio and so on.
Despite all these, the book is a resourceful reading and teaching material on disability studies, particularly in the universities. It is noteworthy and commendable that the authors have used plain language in order to foster understanding. The appendices on directories of organisations for persons with disabilities in Kenya and schools for persons with disabilities in Kenya will be really helpful for those in need. Finally, the recommendations given on a wide array of issues throughout the book are relevant to policy-makers. This book fills a lacuna on disability studies in Kenya that had existed for so long.
Writer is managing partner at Kamau Wanyeki and Co. Advocates