John Wambua: “I learnt from experience how society is skewed against people with disabilities”

March 2022

John Wambua works in programme planning and communications at United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK).

UDPK acts as the umbrella organisation for over 200 organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) in Kenya and is a partner in the USAID-funded Global Labor Program – Inclusive Futures.

Here, John explains how his own experience drives his commitment to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in society and enjoying their full rights.

John’s story

“As a person with a disability, I learnt from experience how society is skewed against people with disabilities. Whether I was looking for employment opportunities or taking part in any mainstream development or political processes it was clear to me that it wasn’t a level playing ground.

“It was out of these observations and lived experiences that I felt the urge to get involved and make my contribution towards changing the landscape for people with disabilities. I believe we can change eliminate barriers and create a non-disabling environment that affords people with disabilities the same opportunities to participate fully in all spheres of life and maximise their potential on an equal basis with others. I have been working on disability inclusion for close to five years now.”

Championing the rights of people with disabilities

“Our work at UDPK centres on championing and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities in all spheres of life.

“This means promoting equal access to opportunities for people with disabilities and advocating for their full, active and meaningful participation in the mainstream development agenda – on an equal basis with others, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

“As the umbrella organisation of OPDs in Kenya, we aim to strengthen their capacity to monitor the rights of people with disabilities and as institutions – to meet their mandate and to represent and advocate for their rights at county and national levels. We also serve to amplify their voices on disability issues.

“Through working with UDPK, I’ve worked on initiatives that have changed the way other people view and engage with people with disabilities.

“Through campaigns around non-discrimination and disability mainstreaming, we’ve engaged the community as partners to address disability issues. These initiatives have had a real impact on the lives of people with disabilities, and to some extent the community in general.

“Through engagement, capacity building and training, we empower OPDs and people with disabilities to engage with disability inclusion issues – including self-advocacy. Seeing OPDs and people with disabilities organise themselves and articulate their agenda has been a highlight of my career.”

Protecting workers’ rights

“Now is an important time to focus on the rights of workers as countries move through the economic changes and upheavals brought about by COVID-19.

“As countries implement their economic recovery responses, workforces will be restructured and reorganised. This restructuring will change the playing ground in a way that wasn’t anticipated before. In some countries, labour laws and policies may not be responsive enough to accommodate these changes and ensure workers’ rights, including those of workers with disabilities, are protected accordingly.

“There’s also a need to ensure workers’ rights are protected with the growing adoption and use of technology in the workplace, especially in developing countries. Now is the right time to ensure that the new work landscape does not disenfranchise workers.”

Creating lasting change

“My hope is that the work we do through the USAID-funded Global Labor Program – Inclusive Futures will have a long-lasting and meaningful impact on disability inclusion and will involve people with disabilities in the development agenda – including in employment.

“I hope that our work will help to eliminate barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating in society as we make it more inclusive.

“In my lifetime, I would like to see a barrier-free society where everyone can get fully involved in life and societal matters on an equal basis. This will mean eliminating the barriers that make it almost impossible for women, young people and people with disabilities to participate in the affairs of society.

“I would also like to see a responsive legal framework that anticipates changes and focuses on safeguarding the rights of the workers. This will be a game changer for the work environment.

“Most importantly, I would like to see deliberate implementation of the existing legal framework on work in Kenya, including the CRPD.”

A photo of John smiling at the camera, wearing a baseball cap and a beige jacket, sitting in front of a laptop.

John Wambua

Programme planning and communications, United Disabled Persons of Kenya.

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