16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence

Greetings everyone.  This year’s 16 Days of Activism started on November 25th and will run until December 10th.  The theme this year is “Together we can end GBV in Education”.  For more about the campaign and to download the action toolkit, please click here

For information on UN Women activities, please click here

For background information about the 16 Days Campaign, please click here

As we celebrate 16 days of activism against GBV, did you know that Women and Girls with disabilities experience double discrimination, which places them at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. The global literacy rate in some places can be as low as one per cent for women with disabilities, according to a UNDP study. The World Bank reports that every minute more than 30 women are seriously injured or disabled during labour and that those 15-50 million women generally go unnoticed…

Please use the following hashtags to get involved with the campaign:








No assistive device? Then you are not disabled

By Akhila Damodaran

BENGALURU: Madhumitha Venkataraman, a HR professional struggles with accessibility, especially because her disability cannot be recognised instantly by an onlooker.

Born with an orthopaedic disability called Left Hemiparesis, she says, “For me to navigate places in any city is hard – sometimes, crossing the road, moving around can be a challenge.”

She says there is a lack of understanding that not all disabilities may be visible – there are disabilities which could be less visible or invisible, but need equal care and attention.

“The assumption is if you are not using an assistive device,you may not be disabled. I have an orthopaedic disability and have difficulty walking and cannot use my left hand well, but because it is not very visible, I need to keep stating the disability while seeking help. I was once travelling by public transport, and the driver refused to help me because he believed I was not disabled. I was left to fend for myself through difficult infrastructure and that was a very tough experience.”

In extension, the existing Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 (India) covers only certain disabilities whereas the revised bill will include several other conditions such as cerebral palsy, locomotor disability and dwarfism.

“This, hopefully will bring in more holistic inclusion of the definition of disability,” she adds. She also currently works in the space of diversity and inclusion. She works with several NGOs and corporate firms across spaces of gender, disability, LGBTQIA and generational diversity.

The Right with Disabilities Bill says the National Commission (India) shall formulate regulations for the persons with disabilities laying down the standards of accessibility for the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas.

Madhumitha adds the number of persons who know and can use sign language in public spaces are very few and that again creates issues of accessibility for speech and hearing impaired persons.
“At the airport, you will come across wheelchair support, but sign language interpreters are hard to find. A few months ago, I was travelling with a friend who had partial speech and hearing impairment and there was no one to communicate with him at the airport. I had to do most of the communication on his behalf. Accessibility cannot be only for one type of disability, it needs to be inclusive to all.”

While the Persons With Disabilities Act, 1995 also says the appropriate governments and local authorities shall by notification formulate schemes for ensuring employment of persons with disabilities and that the appropriate governments and the local authorities shall, within the limits of their economic capacity and development, provide incentives to employers both in public and private sectors to ensure that at least five per cent. of their work force is composed of persons with disabilities, it does not seem to be properly implemented.

Madhumitha says, “There was a friend of mine who got a job from an organisation. He had educated the employer on his disability beforehand and had got the job on merit. He had resigned from his current job and a few days before joining, the offer was retracted stating the disability as the reason. Truly inclusive education is again very hard – majority of children with disability don’t have access to complete education, and that is a key differentiator to future growth and development.”

Originally published in The New Indian Express, 23rd November 2016.

Link to article: http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2016/nov/23/no-assistive-device-then-you-are-not-disabled-1541573–1.html

A Supreme Court Justice said 4 words in American Sign Language. Here’s why that’s awesome.

By Thom Dunn                                            

On Tuesday, April 19, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Your motion is granted” in court. Sound typical? It’s not.

Because for the first time in U.S. history, these words were spoken from the Supreme Court bench in American Sign Language.

To most people, that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. After all, it’s just one little phrase, right? And it’s not like he said something cool like “Awkward turtle” either.

He just said a thing that judges normally say in court.

But for the millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing — including the 12 lawyers who were being sworn into the Supreme Court bar that day — it means a lot.

It wasn’t until 1982 that a deaf lawyer was given an opportunity to argue in front of the Supreme Court. More than three decades later, there are around 200 deaf lawyers working in America. By contrast, licensed lawyers make up about 0.4% of the total U.S. population.

“Some deaf or hard-of-hearing lawyers doubt that they can actually practice law,” Howard Rosenblum, one of the lawyers who was sworn in that day, told the Washington Post. But the real practice is based on intellect and deaf people have that in spades.”

“I think the biggest challenge has been to get people to give me the opportunity,” added Teresa Curtin, another deaf lawyer sworn in Chief Justice Roberts.

And that illuminates a real problem in our culture: The assumption that people with physical disabilities are somehow less qualified to use their minds.

There’s another issue, too, with the way we tend to dismiss those who struggle to communicate in standard American English. But whereas we’re willing to learn bits and phrases of other languages to help us move through the world — who doesn’t know how to say “hello” or “where’s the bathroom?” in at least one other language? — we’re much less accommodating of communication barriers like deafness.

It’s easy to assume that all deaf people have a supernatural ability to read lips, for example. But lipreading is a pretty ineffective form of communication. Even if you think you’re doing a good thing by speaking slowly and oh-ver-ee-nun-see-ate-ing eh-vuh-ree sill-uh-bull, most lip-readers can still only understand about 30% of what’s being said.

American Sign Language, on the other hand, is actually an incredibly efficient way to connect with people. It’s clear, it’s concise, and there are less complicated verb conjugations to worry about. You don’t have to worry about talking over someone in order to be heard. You can communicate with anyone in a crowd as long as they’re in eyesight, and that’s pretty cool!

Deaf people, like anyone else, are capable of amazing things. But if we’re going to make them find their way in the hearing world, the least we can do is talk to them on their terms.

By speaking those four simple words in ASL, Chief Justice Roberts demonstrated a willingness to embrace the Deaf community and meet them where they are. Instead of sitting back and watching as they climbed across the hearing barriers, that one simple signing action communicated something much more than words. It said, “I see you, and I acknowledge that you matter just as much as anyone else.”

 Update 4/25/2016: 12 lawyers who are deaf or hard of hearing were admitted to the Supreme Court bar on April 19. A 13th will also be admitted via written submission.
Article published on http://www.upworthy.com, April 2oth 2016 (http://www.upworthy.com/a-supreme-court-justice-said-4-words-in-american-sign-language-heres-why-thats-awesome)

Extra Hugs, Extra Kisses, Extra Love

by Angela Nyakinyua (Kenya)                         angela.nyakinyua@gmail.com

Down syndrome. A word I had heard of all so often, but never really took interest in, until seven years ago. I remember that  day so well, when the doctor told me that my son Jeremy has Downs. I was dazed, confused, I felt alone, and for like five minutes I just gazed at my son with so many questions in my mind. The doctor went on explaining stuff for like ten more minutes, which I caught nothing of. “Why God? “Was the question that played in my head over and over again like a broken record. How was my life going to be? Will I be able to take care of Jeremy? What about resources? I had too many questions!

So, I did all what we do best. Turn to “uncle Google” for answers. I spent three whole hours gazing at that screen. I read over and over again and wished that it was a bad dream. That I would wake up and my son would be okay. My turning to Google that day, I would say was my savior, because after I slept on all I read, the following day I woke up a different woman. I knew I had to be strong, for my little boy. I got strength, and I was ready……Bring it on downs! Was my new mantra. Funny thing is, I never cried, scared I was yes, but never once did I shed a tear. I was not giving any room to despair.

So started the intense therapy. Jeremy had very low muscle tone. I would take him for therapy three times a week, take him back home then go to work, and still have time for my older daughter {Super woman right there!} I must admit, I was drained, both physically and mentally. But, I soldiered on because I knew that I was fortunate enough to have medical cover, which catered for his occupational therapy, something I am so much grateful for. Jeremy’s therapy taught me so much. The little things that we take for granted like being able to move our neck, or just standing, are a grueling task to some. Hence, it changed my approach to life. Thankfully, we continued with therapy and Jeremy was able to walk at two years. And boy did I celebrate! See, I have learnt to take each and every milestone that he achieves with so much joy! It’s a celebration in my house, and the expression of pride on Jeremy’s face, is just priceless.

At age three, Jeremy joined school. I decided to take him to a ‘normal’ school, because I knew, that here his progress would be better. Thankfully, I found a school that incorporated special needs children as well. The day Jeremy started a school I was the proudest mum! Yes, I cried. I was so proud of my little champ. I had to do a list of his vocabulary to make the teachers work easier, because Jeremy has his own. For instance, tam for come, tet you for thank you, wav you for love you, sack for snack, tensil for pencil and so many more. To date Jeremy loves dong his homework. And he always hi fives with so much joy when he is able to do something. He is still trying to achieve his milestones, but I have learnt to take a day at a time.

The downside though, is the couple of times we were admitted in hospital once he started school. He had very low immunity, so there were countless bouts of bacterial infections, and each cold would advance to pneumonia. Those were my lowest days, seeing him sick weighed me down. It still does. Thankfully, his immunity has improved greatly, and now he is fighting colds on his own. The bacterial infections have also reduced tremendously.  Jeremy is doing really well in school, and he is the darling of his class. He loves music and especially the guitar. And boy does he love dancing{ step back Chris Brown, you’ve got some serious competition!} Many people ask me where I get the strength because I have not broken down even once{though there were days I was at the verge of doing so}.  Ever heard of the phrase,’ God gives special children to special parents?’ Indeed he does. I would never imagine my life without Jeremy. He is such a blessing. He is the sweetest friendliest boy in the world. He gives the most genuine hugs, and kisses, and he literally says hi to everyone we meet on the road! I have never imagined, him being ‘normal’ as many people would term people without special needs. So, today I would like to encourage a parent, or anyone who has a special needs person in their family. Embrace them, love them, they are a blessing. I recently met a parent who has a special needs child as well, and he said something that is now my mantra: Don’t focus on what they cannot do, focus in what they can. That encouraged me. There may be good days and bad days, I agree, but being strong for your child is the most essential thing.  I had Jeremy when I was twenty six, and research sates that the prevalence of having a child with downs is higher in older women. So being strong was the only option.

As a country Kenya, we are still ‘not there’ when it comes to rehabilitation. Therapy is very expensive, not to mention speech therapy. I am a strong advocate for early intervention, because I have seen it work with my son. My prayer and hope is that someday therapy would be free to all, regardless of the class, or race.

Has this experience shaped me? Of course yes. I am stronger, I appreciate life more, and I do not take things for granted. Is having an extra chromosome a bad thing? Of course not!  It means extra, love, extra kisses and extra hugs.

For more info on Down syndrome, start with this link:


Persons with Disabilities at the Driving Seat

By Georgina Mumba

As the new driving challenge continues, it has been exciting, challenging and insightful. But before I get into that, I just wish to state how grateful I am to all you my friamily (friends and family) for the overwhelming support on this new journey.

The announcement of my driving has been received with overwhelming support and has ignited interesting conversations and awakened a lot of curiosity among many. Naturally, the advocate in me sees this as a great opportunity to have a conversation and shed some light on the opportunities, challenges and lessons arising from the issue of persons with physical disabilities (PWDs) being in the literal driving seat.

Driving Lessons

Most people wonder if I went to a ‘special’ driving school or had a ‘specialised’ instructor? If there are such schools or instructors, at the time of my research I could not find one. Therefore, I just went to a regular driving school and was taught by a regular instructor. Honestly, I hope someone reading this would take it upon themselves to ensure there are specialised driving instructors for PWDs especially now that there is a policy encouraging PWDs on the road as a mitigating response to the obvious exclusion of PWDs from public transport.

The main challenge that arose during my lessons was my instructor’s limited familiarity with my vehicle’s controls, how they relate to my impairments and ultimately how collectively this affects me as a driver. We had to work together for a while to get to a place where he could do his job effectively.

Additionally, there was the psychological influence of living with a disability. It is a conflicting feeling between having the desire to be independent and stepping into a realm abounding with victims you can actually relate to. Therefore, some days were particularly emotionally difficult for both of us and mostly because, from my point of view, he could not sufficiently relate to the world I was coming from and how that affected my venturing into the driving challenge. Overall, it was an informative journey for all concerned but one that would have been less challenging if particular knowledge was available for both of us before-hand.

The Vehicle

One other key question has been regarding the type of vehicle I am using. The fair assumption is that for a person with impairments such as mine to actually drive requires a special vehicle. The answer is yes and no. First of all, I drive a simple vehicle- a regular Funcargo. It is, however, special in that it is modified to allow me use my hands instead of my feet for all feet related controls. Otherwise, the modifications are fairly basic. It, however, must be noted that the level of modifications that must be done to a vehicle to allow a person with a physical disability is directly dependent on the level of impairment/s. There are options to effect such modifications and the best, in my opinion, is to communicate these specifications to the supplier prior to the purchase. For an off the shelf purchase, clear and very specific instructions to the supplier would equally work better than post purchase modifications.

Why this Vehicle

I specifically chose a Funcargo because of 1) its interior space is perfect for my wheelchair hence I don’t even need to fold it in transit, 2) the height is great for my transfers as the car seat is fairly on the same level as my wheelchair, and 3) fuel consumption. This is not a vehicle for me per se but rather a mobility aid therefore by default my expenditure on fuel is expected to be a little more regular.

Loading and Offloading the Wheelchair

The other key question many have asked is how do I manage loading and offloading the wheelchair when alone? Again, the answer on this is informed by the level of someone’s physical abilities, type of wheelchair and vehicle. For some, loading and offloading a wheelchair (manual wheelchair) is not an issue because of the strength of their upper bodies. There are plenty of videos on Youtube on how this can be done. The other easier way is when the vehicle has a ramp at the back which allows the driver/passenger to just roll into the vehicle while still seated in the wheelchair. An additional option is a wheelchair lift. There are various types of wheelchair lifts whose specifications abound on the internet. However, when selecting mobility aids it is always best to work in close consultation with an occupational therapist and the supplier of the aid.

However, while all options other than doing it myself are best for my level of impairments, such modifications comes with a price tag I personally cannot afford. Therefore, for my part, while I have full use of my upper limbs I must also state that I equally have an extreme case of scoliosis due to limited and late access to rehabilitation in the early stages of my disability and continued bad posture over the years due to use of improper wheelchairs.

Therefore, it is unsafe for me to independently load and unload the wheelchair on and off the vehicle. Thus while at home that is taken care of, at work I depend on assistance from anyone in the car park or call for help from a friend from the office.

Access as a Barrier to Real and Effective Independence

Past the initial euphoria of finally being independent mobility-wise, reality settles in that for as long as access remains a challenge, real and effective independence for persons with physical disabilities still remains a fantasy in these parts of the world.

In as much as I can drive myself, I still need to move with someone to gain access to most of my destinations. For example, while there is a ramp at the office, it is hardly possible for me to access the building without help. Above everything else, specifications of the ramp (too steep) make it very difficult and unsafe for me to use it independently. The same goes for most other facilities I would wish to visit. Therefore, while I can take myself from my gate to the gate of my destination, I still have not gained real and effective independence and access to society.

And this goes back to my continued advocacy on ensuring the RIGHT ramps are installed. The whole purpose of effective accessibility is to effectively empower a PWD to independently and safely enter, manoeuvre within and exit the premises. If either or both factors are infringed upon then nothing would have really been achieved except resources would have unfortunately been wasted.

Safety in Transit

The other burning question is what is my In Case of Emergency Plan (ICEP)? Now that is a million dollar question-it always makes me extraordinarily grateful when I get to my destination incident free. Naturally, I have no formal carer, therefore the daily trip to and from work is without company. So if I were to have a flat tyre or any other similar emergency at a minimum I would pin my hopes on the goodwill of a good Samaritan. However, the issue is not the lack of good Samaritan but rather how I am to communicate my distress.

For a regular motorist the standard, other than flashing hazards, is to put triangles a few meters away from the vehicle to signal to other motorists of my obstruction and in a way of my distress. Naturally, if alone I cannot access my wheelchair so it is practically impossible for me to lay the triangles and even if I could I hardly imagine doing transfers in the middle of a road would be a Nobel idea. Furthermore, my research on where I can get a blue badge or the Zambian version has proved fruitless so far. Therefore, without this basic minimum form of communication it is also a challenge to access handicap parking spaces. In the interim I have resolved to lay a notice at the back of my vehicle informing other motorists that I am a physically impaired driver. I honestly have mixed feelings about this glaring tag but I thought it wiser to err on the side of caution.

In conclusion, driving as a person with a physical disability in a country notoriously devoid of accessible public transport is clearly a step in the right direction. However, it is not the ultimate answer nor an answer that helps many. There is still a lot of PWDs that are still excluded even with such interventions in place and even those that can drive still face a lot of challenges in effectively gaining mobility independence.

By Georgina Mumba (Zambia 2016)