Travelling in Africa can provide many challenges for people without a disability, but is it a complete no-go zone for people with physical impairment or other special needs? Harun Hassan of NONDO (Northern Nomadic Disabled Persons Organisation) says definitely not and encourages travellers to “experience the excitement of getting through the hardship”.
While facilities in Kenya for people with disabilities have been slower to come to the fore, there is legislation in place to ensure that all buildings are accessible. Moreover, there are several community-based and non-governmental organisations that advocate the rights of people with disabilities and the results of their work are becoming increasingly evident. Shopping centres are very accessible and there are several hotels including Sarova Stanley, PanAfric and The Boma (all in Nairobi) that have excellent amenities.
The 2010 constitution has specified a certain number of people with disabilities must be elected to parliament to represent the needs of the community. In Kenya, there is not so much discrimination against people with disabilities as a lack of awareness. Having members of parliament with disabilities is one step to increase awareness as they speak about their impairment and how their lives have been growing up and now as a public figure.
A result of the lack of awareness is that when travellers with disabilities approach a safari operator, often their enquiry is ignored because the operator puts them in the “too hard basket”. In Kenya, there are hardly any wheelchair-accessible vehicles – those Kenyans with physical impairments must be able to transfer themselves into taxis. But that should not be a reason to dismiss Kenya as a holiday destination. Rather, have a good conversation with your tour operator about your needs and find one that is prepared to work with you to plan your safari. It will be up to you to inform the tour operator very specifically what you require, and it is probably not realistic to expect all the smooth mechanics you might be used to at home such as chair lifts, but the great thing about Kenya is that anything is possible!
If you are thinking about a Kenyan safari, you may contemplate including the Desert Wheel Race in your travel plans. Held every August in Isiolo, the race is designed to give people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in sports and raise funds for children with disabilities to attend school. NONDO works in partnership with the county governments from the seven counties participating in the event and willing partners and sponsors such as CBM in ensuring the event is well organized. In northern Kenya most communities are nomadic pastoralists and many people with physical impairment have never even seen a wheelchair. Inter-tribal conflict has caused disabilities (for example one of the founding members of NONDO was stabbed in the spine with a spear as a child by a raiding tribe) resulting in the further marginalisation of people living in an already marginalised community.
In 2015, the Desert Wheel Race will be held on 22 August and OTA is organising a safari from Nairobi to participate in the event. Please contact Tracey and Francis for more information: email@example.com
All photos courtesy of CBM picture database