“My wheelchair is not who I am, it is just how I get around” – the experience of a young Kenyan woman with a disability.
Born with a physical disability, Emily who has been volunteering with organisations working with people with disabilities (PWDs) reveals that she came to the realisation that a lot of people cannot afford wheelchairs. While for others, wheelchairs are a source of distress. These two combined is what led her to what she is doing today; looking for donations from well-wishers on social media for people who need wheelchairs. Vice Versa Globals reporter Eunice Wanjiru meets up with Emily Wanjiru in Embakasi
We watch mesmerised as 25-year-old Emily supports herself with the staircase rails to get up the block of stairs that lead to her house. Her feet barely touching the ground, she does this so effortlessly until we get to the 4th floor.While Emily relies on her wheelchair for mobility when out of the house, at home, it is a different story. She demonstrates this difference as she comfortably slides off her seat and goes to fetch herself a glass of water before she begins sharing her story.
While disabilities vary, Emily’s story is also that of many other persons with disabilities (PWDs). The majority having limited or no access to basic human rights, such as education, health, suitable housing and employment.
Emily Wanjiru, 25, is the second child of four children. She appreciates her family for all of the love, support, and care they have given her over the years. Her condition does, however, come with a number of challenges, many of which she encountered as she started her education. She says that right from the onset, she found herself at a disadvantage in school. “It was very difficult to survive in school as a PWD. I was confronted by a lot of environmental, institutional and attitude challenges,” explains Emily.
“I was lucky enough to go to a special needs school where it was quite easy to move around, but that was not the case throughout all my years of education,” says Emily.She still remembers having to constantly ask able bodied students to help her fetch bathing water or hang her laundry. But her requests were not always met with positive responses.
“Time is money everywhere in the world and school was not an exception. There are days I would have to trade my breakfast in order to get someone do something for me.” But these sacrifices did not come between her and her education. She was able to continue to a higher institution of learning.
Emily is a qualified information technologist and Counsellor. While her passion lies with the latter, the lack of job opportunities which she says affects people with disabilities disproportionately led her to her newfound passion – helping PWDs find wheelchairs.
Her mobile phone is her work post and as a volunteer with different organisations working with PWDs she has been able to build relationships with different people in the communities where she works, especially women and parents of children with disabilities. It is as a result of this that she was able to help 11-year-old Agnes.
“Agnes has celebral palsy meaning that she requires a wheelchair, not only for her sake but that of her mother, who has to wheel her for medical appointments and everyday activities”, she says . Unfortunately, the state of her wheelchair was deplorable something that rendered the task a challenge.
Emily scrolls through her phone and proudly shows us a photo of a young girl seated in a blue wheelchair. Her posture on the wheelchair is a clear indication that she is quite uncomfortable. On the right side, the wheelchair seems to be held together by plastic bags tied in a knot.
“She is the very first person I helped get a wheelchair. The smile on her face really motivates me”, she says as she shows us a contrasting photo of Agnes on a new black wheelchair, with arms outstretched and a bright smile on her face . “When you are disabled, your wheelchair becomes part and parcel of you. It needs to be comfortable. A wheelchair that neither fits correctly nor meets the user’s specific needs can make one miserable. It further exposes one to risks of secondary wheelchair related injuries like pressure sores, muscle tightness amongst others,” explains Emily.
For PWDs, having a wheelchair enables them to exercise their human rights and have equal participation in society. Wheelchairs also create opportunities for PWDs to gain access to education, work, social services such as health and to engage in social activities.
Access to wheelchairs
It is estimated that at least 100 million children, teens and adult worldwide need a wheelchair but cannot afford one while for others, wheelchairs have brought more problems than solutions.
According to the AT 2030 Case Study, Catalysing AT access: Scaling rehabilitative services and increasing access to AT in Kenya, the Kenyan national census reports that almost one million Kenyans – 2.2 percent of the population aged five years and above have at least one form of disability. It further reveals that approximately 400,000 people in the country have mobility impairment while it is also estimated that about 100,000 people need a wheelchair annually.The UN Standard Rules ()1994 Rule 4; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD 2006) Article 20 (personal mobility) and Article 26 (habilitation & Rehabilitation) requests member states to support the development; production and distribution and servicing of assistive devices and equipment and the dissemination of knowledge about them.
For now, Emily maintains she will continue promoting her cause regardless of the challenges involved in getting support and donations . Her motivation – knowing the feeling of waking up and finding oneself in the same spot day after day. Also, hearing the parents of children with disabilities she works with telling stories of how they cannot afford wheelchairs for their children further motivates her.Emily who only started her wheelchair mission this year has a long-term dream of setting up a foundation. She hopes to find the support she needs from well-wishers to realise this dream and help those who reach out to her, a number she says keeps increasing.
The path she has chosen to take has also taught her the lesson that one’s physical ability should not be a measure of their other abilities, which she says is the predominant mind-set in society about people with disabilities.
“When a person with a disability asks for an opportunity to do something, people especially employers should look beyond what they see. Please do not make the decision for me based on the assumption that I cannot handle it. Just because I cannot use my legs does not mean my hands do not work. The reality is that we have been disabled more by society than by our bodies and diagnoses. People with disabilities should stop being looked at condescendingly and with pity and be treated with dignity and respect.”she says.
If you would like to donate to Emily and her worthy cause, please reach out using any of our social media channels. We will forward the message to her.