Access to healthcare and social services is crucial for the well-being of all individuals, not least of all the deaf community. According to data from the World Health Organization (2018), social protection is positively correlated with enhanced healthcare utilisation and improved health outcomes. In Kenya, the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) stands as a significant social protection programme. Offering comprehensive inpatient and outpatient medical coverage, the NHIF extends its benefits to all citizens. This support is instrumental in mitigating the financial barriers that the deaf community often faces, ensuring they can access essential healthcare services. With the NHIF card covering individuals, their spouses, and children under 18, it serves as a powerful tool in promoting health equity and well-being for all.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 places a clear obligation on the country to ensure the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, particularly deaf people, in all aspects of life, including education, employment, and healthcare. This includes providing qualified Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) interpreters. This constitutional commitment is reflected in Articles 2, 34, and 54, emphasising a progressive approach to social protection. It calls for healthcare providers to learn basic Kenyan Sign Language, ensuring privacy and confidence in their interactions with deaf clients. In essence, Kenya’s legal framework promotes the inclusion and welfare of the deaf community by addressing communication barriers in the healthcare sector.
In Kenya, there is no specific healthcare policy tailored for deaf individuals. That being said, there are specialised departments that cater to their needs. Most noteworthily, the Kenyatta National Hospital’s ENT department specialises in hearing impairment, providing hearing aids and necessary assistive tools for audiological assessments when required.
Fostering Inclusion: The Vital Role of Social Protection
Social protection is crucial in addressing the vulnerabilities of the deaf community in Kenya. Currently, there is a Cash Transfer for Persons with Severe Disabilities (PWSD) scheme, launched in June 2011. It targets adults and children with severe disabilities, who require full-time support from a caregiver through the enactment of the Social Assistance Act of 2013 and the National Disability Policy of 2006. Such targeting is insufficient and leaves out most persons with disabilities in Kenya, including most of the deaf community.
There is also a need to improve access to information and services by funding Kenyan sign language interpretation services in official communications and enhancing training programs for public service providers. Collaboration between government institutions and organisations representing the deaf community is essential to establish social inclusion guidelines for inclusive social protection programmes. Legal protection and advocacy are also necessary to safeguard the rights of the deaf community. Several organisations have played instrumental roles in driving positive change, providing support, and facilitating the inclusion of deaf people in policy-making processes.
Moreover, several initiatives are actively working towards social protection and empowering the deaf community in Kenya. Organisations such as the Kenya National Association of the Deaf, the Deaf Outreach Program, the Deaf Empowerment of Kenya, the Kenyan Sign Language Research Project, the Horizontal Sign Language Training Institute, the Federation of Deaf Women Empowerment Kenya, Deaf haven, E-kitabu and the Kenya Sports Federation of Deaf, among others, advocate for the rights of the deaf, promote Kenyan Sign Language, and provide support services. The Kenyan government has also implemented policies to promote inclusive education and disability-friendly infrastructure.
Social protection is crucial in addressing the challenges faced by the deaf community in Kenya. Through disability benefits that encompass the deaf, access to education, employment, healthcare, and legal protection, society can empower the deaf, promote their inclusion, and ensure their rights are respected. Collaborative efforts between government institutions, advocacy organisations, and the wider community are crucial to building an inclusive society where the deaf can thrive. It is essential to work together to create a more accessible and inclusive future for all.