Sarah talks her journey into employment and the impact our young voices programme.
I realised it is not that people ignore people with disabilities, it is because they are not aware of/do not know how to approach disability issues.
Seven years ago while I was at university, my friend, who also had a physical disability, invited me to an event about disability. We didn’t have much information about it but went along anyway.
We always felt that for us to be able to claim spaces, to be heard, and to be included, we must always show up. This was the first time I had attended a disability related event.
When we arrived we heard words like disability inclusion, participation and disability rights.
Having had personal experience of using a wheelchair during some of my teen years, I wanted a platform where I could share my story. More importantly, I wanted a platform to advocate for a barrier free world that was inclusive and non-discriminatory.
Throughout the session, hosted by Leonard Cheshire, I was thinking about how many people with disabilities had no knowledge or information about disability, yet it was a part of them.
Gave me a voice
Reflecting on that time I am particularly grateful to Washington and Richard. They were leading Leonard Cheshire’s Young Voices Project and invited me to their second meeting. This second meeting is what truly sparked my interest and enlightened me.
It gave me a voice to advocate for quality and accessible education for children with disabilities. It also gave me the opportunity to advocate for the actualisation of the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs), now known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This led me to be nominated to represent Leonard Cheshire, and young people with disabilities, at the Malala Day event in New York on July 2013. This was my big moment! I addressed world leaders, and the world through global media outlets. I spoke about the need to end segregation and the neglect of people with disabilities in our education system. I did it!
This one-off opportunity is what opened other doors for me. I was invited to be Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld and a Youth Council Advisor for the Global Business Coalition for Education.
I also went on to graduate with a master’s degree in International Development from Italy. It even led me to co-found my own organisation, Gifted Community Centre. It advocates for the rights of youth with disabilities in the informal settlements of Nairobi.
Participating as a Leonard Cheshire Young Voices member helped amplify my voice. It gave me a platform to call for a world free of barriers, discrimination, stigma and inaccessibility. This experience also prepared me for the next step of my career.
I went on to intern as a Communications Associate at the British High Commission-Department for International Development (DFID) in Kenya. I must acknowledge that this felt much more than an internship, it was a decent job (in my opinion). I worked in the same way as my colleagues.
I got support with learning and development materials and had access to the accessible services I needed. I particularly appreciated working in a diverse environment, which was always my desire.
Through this experience I gained a new perspective on life and disability. I realised it is not that people ignore people with disabilities, it is because they are not aware of/do not know how to approach disability issues.
Paving the pathway
I joined the organisation at a time when they had just developed their first ever Disability Inclusion Strategy. Through the support of the Ambassador and the then Acting DFID Country Director, I was able to begin executing. I even got to serve as an Ambassador and speak about women and girls with disabilities for the International women’s Day in March 2019.
By the time I left the Commission we had conducted the first ever disability simulation exercise. We developed weekly tips on disability and a communications plan on increasing awareness for staff.
I believe one day I will go back to the Commission. It was a life changing experience and one that I must thank Leonard Cheshire for helping pave the pathway to.