NAIROBI – Negotiating Nairobi’s pavements, which are cracked at best and nonexistent at worst, or using its crowded public transport is a challenge for any pedestrian but especially for disabled people.
Around 10% of Kenya’s population, around five million people, have a disability, the World Health Organisation estimates.
Of that number, around 26% have reduced mobility, according to Global Disability Rights Now.
Jane Kerubo and her husband Nicholas Mungai, live in the suburb of Kayole, in the east of the Kenyan capital.
Kerubo wears a prosthesis after losing her right leg and Mungai uses crutches due to a loss of mobility in his left leg after an incident of medical negligence when he was a child.
“Neither the streets nor the ‘matatus’ (minibuses used by millions of Kenyans every day) are designed for people with disabilities,” the couple said.
The pair live in an apartment surrounded by unpaved streets, dirt and potholes.
Both work selling sweets in the streets of the city’s financial center, which is around two hours away by minibus due to traffic congestion.
“Most of the time, during peak hours, drivers ignore us and the rates are too high for us,” Kerubo said about the matatus, “so I prefer to go home with my tricycle.”
The minibuses, which act as public transport but belong to private operators, are prohibitive for physically disabled people due to their entrance steps, narrow walkways and limited space between the seats.
Kenyan urban activist Constant Cap said that “for many years people with disabilities have been ignored, not only in transport, but in many areas.”
He added that priority should be given to “vulnerable groups” and vehicles designed to be accessible for everyone.
Kenya’s Persons with Disabilities Act, 2003, states that public buildings and transportation should be adapted to allow access for physically disabled people.
But the reality is that many official buildings do not have a ramp or elevator and the government has failed to apply the regulations to the transport sector.
The Flone Initiative is an organization working to improve transport with measures including installing wider seats, announcements of stops and route maps.
Spokeswoman Mary Mwangi said: “It is important to look at public transport as a way of displacing people, analyzing it from a social and non-economic point of view.”
Flone is negotiating with several minibus cooperatives but the cost of modifications is a problem as they do not receive any financial support from the government and the operators have asked that they are given fiscal incentives in exchange for the investment.
Nairobi city councilor Hitan Majevdia said the solution is in a future fast bus network for the city.
The idea of the project is that it will be publicly owned, affordable and adapted, but it could take years to develop.
Meanwhile, the difficulty of transportation will continue to contribute to the economic and social exclusion of physically disabled people in Kenya.