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The celebration of this day aims to promote empowerment and raise awareness about disability issues, create real opportunities for people with disabilities and to mobilize support for greater equality with reference to dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. 

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The event was graced by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Planning Research and Innovation Prof. Charles Mutai who assured the congregation of the University’s commitment to ensuring that its staff and students with disabilities’ rights, needs and wellbeing are met.

“The observance of this day aims to promote our understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). So much has changed regarding disability since the inception of our University. We have developed policies, improved accessibility to different parts of the University and prioritized you in our attachment, internship, work study programs and employment,” he noted.

Prof. Mutai urged the community to stop believing that disabilities prevent a person from doing something saying that we are all abled differently and for that reason we can do well regardless of our condition.  

In respect to this day, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology established a Special Ability Club dubbed ‘Masinde Muliro University Special Ability Club(MMUSAC)’, where students with disabilities interact and support each other through day-to-day challenges. The club also links students with disabilities to the National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) for registration in order to be identified by the government and benefit from its programs. The club is steered by the patron, Prof. Peter Bukhala who is also the Director Research and Postgraduate Support in the University.   

“We want to mark the event as the beginning of greater things so that the number of students, the programmes we offer, our policies and increased accessibility ensures more students and staff with disabilities join our University,” said Prof. Peter Bukhala. He assured the congregation that MMUSAC is up to the task and ready to improve the welfare of people with disabilities in the University.

The guest speaker Dr. Phitallis Masakhwe who serves as the Officer in charge of Service Delivery and Advisory Unit Office of the Governor Kakamega County, addressed staff and students on ‘Inclusive Universities in the Post Covid Era’. He noted that the issue of disability is critical, pointing out the ever growing notion of PWDs as pitiable, tragic victims and less fortunate members of society. 

“People living with disabilities are underrated and discriminated against every day yet full equality should be practiced in every person. Despite the commitment expressed and progress made by both international and local communities towards an inclusive society, PWDs continue to face numerous barriers to their full inclusion and involvement in the life of their communities. Negative attitudes, stigma, discrimination, lack of accessibility in both physical and virtual environments with regard to education, health services, employment and lack of support for independent living are still a challenge to PWDs,” said Dr. Masakhwe.

He encouraged MMUST to endeavor to provide a supportive environment towards its PWDs. “Make your curricula inclusive and sensitive to students with disabilities, create awareness on how the community should live with PWDs, encourage a culture of speaking up on any form of violence against PWDs, advise them to venture in sports and most importantly, employ them for they are not short of anything and can do just as much as people without disabilities,” he said.

Speaking during the event, the Chairman ACGDMU Prof. Danstone Baraza briefed the gathering about the Disability Audit Dissemination Workshop that was held on 12th January 2021 at Bishop Stam to share findings of the recent Built Environment Accessibility Audit funded by MMUST. The audit involved all buildings, roads, pathways and teaching facilities of the University including Main Campus, Webuye and Bungoma Campuses.

Additionally, Prof. Baraza shared that the University had sponsored five (5) staff in key sections of the University to train on basic and advanced sign language courses as a way of improving service delivery to PWDs. He also commended the University for facilitating deployment of PWDs for attachment, internship and work study programs.

The Dean School of Agriculture, Veterinary Science and Technology Prof. Jacob Wakhungu, Officer In-Charge of Investigations Mr. Manoah Bornface and Administrator, Mr. Joseph Mugo shared their first hand stories of living with disability. The three personalities encouraged the PWDs to support one another and face the world with courage while understanding they are different.

“Do not underrate yourselves. Accept you are different and when turned down for work opportunities, accept positively and keep looking for more. Let us be people who add value to the society other than sympathy seekers,” said Mr. Manoah.

Other notable personalities present included the Coordinator AIDs Control Gender and Disability Mainstreaming Unit Prof. Gladys Mengich, Sign Language Interpreter Ms. Susan Ndicu, the MMUSAC leadership led the Chairperson Mr. Benn Kiche, Vice Chair Ms. Vilda Atieno and the Secretary General Mr. George Odhiambo.

PWDs are yet to be effectively included in the implementation of our human rights instruments including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a society we have a duty to challenge bias and misinformation and find new tactics to work for and with PWDs. We can only succeed if we advocate and uphold full participation of everyone in our communities including PWDs. 

 By Caren Mutoro

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