Voice of America (Washington, DC)

13 August 2014

Kenya: For Nairobi's Disabled, An Equal Chance Behind the Wheel

analysis

Each day, 45-year-old George Papai makes an arduous journey to and from work - and his commute is unusually long. Today is no different. Whereas an able-bodied person would make the same bus trip in about 45 minutes, it takes Papai two hours.

In a country whose infrastructure, buildings and transit policies fail to factor in needs of the disabled, Papai and others like him feel like second-class citizens.

"The way the buildings [used to be] constructed, they are not disabled-friendly," he said. "Even the cars - most of them they are not disabled-friendly. Some people have wheelchairs [and] they find it a problem to get into the vehicle with their wheelchair, and they don't even have space to place their wheelchairs."

Carlos Lwangu, who manages a fleet of 11 buses that shuttle between Nairobi and Ngong, disabled citizens need help from both the public and private sector.

"If the government looked into it, and even if the private sector looked at the situation as well, we would look at the paraplegics, pregnant women and the children," he said. "All this [would] make the community better so that public transport will be sufficient for all these three groups."

This kind of built-in inequality is what one Nairobi-based driving school is hoping to address by offering driving lessons for the disabled.

Nearly 10 years ago, Rocky Driving School instructors began teaching physically impaired students the skills essential to operating specially-equipped cars.

They are the only driving school in East and Central Africa to offer the special courses.

Dismas Ondoro, one of the specially-trained instructors, says the training vehicles, which cost about $1,000 to modify, have a lever attached to both the accelerator and brake pedals. When students want to accelerate, they push the lever forward. When they want to brake, they push it back. Ondoro says the lever can be used by people with any number of handicaps.

For Papai, who is currently enrolled in one of the $150 driving courses, which take four weeks to complete, the experience has the potential dramatically expand horizons of independence and personal mobility.

"I am very much excited at learning how to drive, because by so doing I can also drive like any other [able-bodied] person, unlike before where we felt we have been left out or we cannot be able to drive on our own," he said.

With only five more lessons to go before he takes the National driving exam, Papai is confident that at last he will be behind the wheel of his own destiny.

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