Advocating for inclusion
Johnkeen, who attended an inclusive school as part of our Girls’ Education Challenge Transition (GECT) project, tells us why he’s advocating for inclusive education in Kenya.
Before I joined an inclusive school, I faced a lot of challenges. I became disabled after an accident, and this affected my mental health. Because of this, I was discriminated against. I came up against stigma around my disability and my mental health. I was close to giving up.
But then, I was enrolled at an inclusive primary school through Leonard Cheshire’s GECT project. Attending inclusive primary and secondary schools really had a huge impact on me. For one, it really helped improve my self-esteem. And it enabled me to build good relationships with my non-disabled peers.
Other students learned about the importance of inclusive education. And it meant our interactions were friendly. They would support me with my wheelchair and assist me in getting around if I needed it. We would all play together, and it gave me much more confidence. It taught me that being disabled shouldn’t affect my education. I can thrive just like everyone else.
The child-to-child clubs at school were also a big benefit. They included children with and without disabilities. They were a space to help us understand each other more. And was an opportunity for children to learn about some of the challenges disabled students face – and how they can help too! Forming these clubs gave us life skills and values that guide us now.
My positive school experience made me want to advocate for the importance of inclusive education. I came out of school and wanted to be a champion for it.
Becoming an advocate
Inclusive education really helps reduce discrimination and stigmatisation. I noticed this a lot when I was part of the project. The community started to understand more about disability. They were educated on the opportunities that come with inclusive education. Through this, I was able to advise parents with children with disabilities. I encourage them to enrol them at school. And I advocated for the importance of having more inclusive schools. During my time at high school, there were over 33 schools that incorporated inclusive education, including seven secondary schools. And I believe that number has now increased!
My positive school experience made me want to advocate for the importance of inclusive education. I came out of school and wanted to be a champion for it. I wanted to fight for inclusive education in other communities that weren’t yet implementing it in their schools. I felt empowered to be a leader and advocate for my disabled peers. And this was an excellent platform for me to interact with different people across the community.
My passion for inclusive education has led me to be an advocate representing people with disabilities in the fight for inclusion in various sectors. Young disabled people really face a lot of challenges here in Kenya. Inaccessibility is one of the main challenges. The environment in many places is not disability friendly. For example, someone with a hearing impairment can not always get access to information as it’s not accessible and there are no interpreters.
Like me, people with physical disabilities can often not access institutions due to a lack of ramps or lifts. People with visual impairments lack support and access to braille technology. Accessing health services for young people can also be challenging because it’s expensive. And a lack of understanding about disability makes all of this more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, there have been changes over time, but there’s still lots to do.
When it comes to education, I have seen a lot of positive changes with inclusive education. The government offers vocational training colleges and skills training. But in many education settings, young disabled people are still excluded because of a lack of education about disability and inclusion. And there’s not enough access to assistive devices in education settings too. So as you can see, despite progress, there’s still work to do. And this is why I’m such a passionate advocate.
Raising my voice
I’ve been raising my voice at university in particular. The university I attend is not fully disability friendly like my former schools. There are some places I can’t access in my wheelchair, like toilets. The university needs to have a better understanding of accessibility and inclusion and make those important changes. Universities should be trained on disability inclusion and disability rights. And they should go out of their way to educate more widely on disability.
It would also be great to see them setting up clubs focusing on disability issues. This would help raise awareness within the wider student population too. And most importantly, there should be measurements and policies in place to protect rights and inclusion for people with disabilities.
In the future, I would love to see more education opportunities for people with disabilities. There should be free education or scholarships available specifically for disabled students. And disabled students should be able to access assistive devices like braille readers, hearing aids and wheelchairs. I want to see young disabled people being empowered in different ways, like socioeconomic empowerment and leadership empowerment. We must work together to achieve the goal of full inclusivity for people with disabilities across the community and the world.
On a personal level, my main goal is to be a World Ambassador representing youth and children with disabilities. I would love to work with the United Nations on disability inclusion. I want to be a role model by joining the Global Youth Parliament and representing youth at a regional level. When I finish school in the next two years, I hope to get a good job and support myself and my family to have a better life.