STEM ROUTE APPROPRIATE FOR SELF EMPLOYMENT OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

One of the biggest challenges Person With Disabilities(PWDs) face is transport and mobility. The challenges may range from negative attitudes from PSV operators, hiked charges or the excuse of no boot to load a wheelchair once a PWD is in the vehicle. Sometimes the PSV might not be patient enough to help you get in the vehicle or even disembark once you get to your destination. Airlines too have been on the receiving end with a prominent local airline being called out because of its impatient pilot who scolded a PWD for taking time to board the flight. Had it not been for the online outcry and the PR nightmare it caused to its brand as an airline, the blatant case of discrimination would have gone unnoticed and it would have persisted as a result. The effect was that other airlines took notice and decided to learn from the experience.

Over the years, talk of modifying vehicles to be PWD friendly have just been that: talk. No tangible action has been taken. Even though the attitudes seem to be changing for the better due to the availability of alternatives, the alternatives in the name of taxi apps, seem to be taking advantage of disability in a way to charge more. The categorization of vehicle modes such as lite and Xtra in some of the ride hailing apps put PWDs at a disadvantage since the larger the vehicle you book, the more the money you pay. Wheelchair users cannot book smaller vehicles because that would mean leaving the wheelchair behind. Some drivers charge you more for the time they take to help a wheelchair user board the taxi and alight upon reaching destination. On several occasions, I have been forced to cancel a ride because the vehicle could not fit the wheelchair upon inquiry from the driver. 

STEM is an acronym for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. Of late there has been a ton of attention on these disciplines in terms of teaching and inclusion since the world is becoming more technological. Attention has been mostly on women and girls to encourage uptake of the courses in these disciplines since it has been male dominated for a while now. While the efforts are commendable, not much of an effort has been put into encouraging uptake of STEM courses by PWDs. PWDs face more entrenched barriers to participation in STEM courses ranging from denial of education opportunities and judging their capabilities with their disabilities. The truth is PWDs are up to the task given the right kind of support and motivation. 

Equipping PWDs with STEM skills has the potential to empower PWDs economically beyond measure. For starters, modification of motorbikes to be disability friendly would help them venture into the supply business of goods especially in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry. This is because it is more accommodative to PWDs unlike the boda-boda business, where people fight for customers and sometimes customers themselves may refuse to board a bike simply because the rider is handicapped due to attitudinal challenges. With supplies its just moving goods from one point to another and that’s it. A collaboration of such a kind between FMCG players in Kenya and motorcycle manufacturers to supply modified bikes to PWDs and FMCG to give distribution jobs with the bikes would have more impact that the FMCG annoying habit of teaching PWDs to sell confectionaries by the roadside. More can be done.

The KCB Group has an empowerment programme called Tujiajiri, where they have collaborated with vocational institutions to teach skills that are useful for employment such as hairdressing and vehicle mechanics just to mention a few. The industry experts in these skills are Ashley’s for hairdressing and beauty skills and Toyota Kenya for motor vehicle mechanics training. The arrangement is that after the training in the vocational colleges, Toyota and Ashley’s absorb some of the students in the company as employees or for further training after which they can be given capital to start their own businesses. Key factor in the growth of Toyota has been franchising and building local capacity in the countries it operates in, in addition to making quality and durable cars for all economic classes. Why can’t they teach motor vehicle assembly skills to PWDs? Isuzu can do the training as well so that the PWDs can modify the PSVs before delivery to the matatu SACCOs. In any case, that’s how developed nations operate so no excuse. The vehicle must be disability friendly lest it will not operate on the road.

With a trained skill force in motor vehicle mechanics, it would then be easier for more PWD drivers to venture into the taxi business with the modified vehicles to carry fellow PWDs and disability will cease to be expensive. Wheelchair friendly vehicles are also appropriate for the aged or the extremely sick going to and from hospital or physiotherapy visits. Since there is asset financing from banks, it is very much possible for PWDs to be enabled to expand the taxi business based on the rating of the taxi app he is operating with, with the taxi company including the option of choosing a PWD driven and wheelchair friendly car. After all, taxi companies have agreements with banks to enable its drivers to buy cars on loan based on their ratings on the app. If you have a higher rating, you have a better chance of paying the loan since it means you get customers easily so repaying the loan is possible.

If companies can have the option of women only taxi for their female customers, the same can be done for PWD only taxi cab. Modalities can be worked out on how to avoid social evils bedeviling the cab business such as having drunk and unruly clients who might be a danger to PWDs. Alternatively, the cab can be used to ferry children with disabilities to school or wherever a PWD might want to go. Thus, there will be no need to hire a vehicle for transport. More freedom and opportunities for PWDs. 

It can be done.