Reuben Mpatiany, is a 26-year-old advocate from Kenya and belongs to an Indigenous community. He is the founder of Narok Albinism Association, which works closely with young people with disabilities as well as the general population of persons with disabilities by partnering with other organizations to empower young people to participate in political processes. He visits different communities to raise awareness around the issues facing young people with disabilities. This work has enabled him to better understand the critical barriers to, and help address young people with disabilities’ inclusion, in democratic processes. Reuben is also active in the Global Caucus of Youth with Disabilities through the International Disability Alliance.
How do you work to empower young people with disabilities in your community?
Working with different groups in the community has been a great opportunity for me to understand more about young people’s issues and rights and how they operate day to day activities, as well as to better understand the barriers they face. This has enabled me to work to address issues facing young people with disabilities and democracy.
For my organization, Narok Albinism Association, partnering with other organizations of persons with disabilities has helped our work in giving power to young people to participate in political processes. Visiting different regions to build awareness and address issues that are affecting young people with disabilities has enabled them to be part of the society. At the moment they are on the front line of decision making and this has helped demonstrate clearly that disability is not inability.
How can young people with disabilities hold governments and community leaders accountable? What are some ways in which young people can effectively advocate for themselves as decision makers?
As young people with disabilities and from different advocacy organizations, we need to work together as one team to advocate for the participation of young people with disabilities in public and political life.
Youth empowerment is key for democracy development. Organizations of persons with disabilities need to work together to design programs and activities that will enable them to be financially stable. Funding programs for young people with disabilities will enable them to gain more skills on income generating activities and creative decision-making and increase their reliability as leaders in society.
Young people with disabilities need mentorship programs organized by organizations of persons with disabilities and their partners to enable them to understand leadership. Creation of mentorship programs will lead to the development of good leadership that will enable society to rely on democracy and good governance.
What challenges do young people with disabilities continue to face when participating in political life?
In my Indigenous community, young people lack information because the communication channels and institutions sometimes lack the right agents who work in the field, making awareness creation a challenge. Most young people with disabilities also lack relevant technology and this will hinder them getting information that can empower them.
Young people need relevant training that will help them acquire skills needed to achieve in life, but most of them cannot access information and so this causes them to be left behind.
Lack of inclusivity is another challenge. Most young Indigenous people with disabilities are not included in resource allocation and job opportunities. This creates a huge gap between young people with disabilities and others.
Young people with disabilities are not given a chance to participate as community leaders or in election processes; there is a lot of stigma and discrimination that limit their access to decision-making spaces. I remember personally, I faced a challenge when I was looking to represent a group of persons with albinism in my region. Many thought that I would not be able to succeed to reach that position because of my disability. While I was distressed, I didn’t give up my dream, and I was elected to represent them with a high percentages.
As we embark on this Year of Action following the Summit for Democracy, what would you like to see happen in Kenya? What are the ways in which the Kenyan government can more effectively engage with young people with disabilities?
Good governance will help young Indigenous people with disabilities access government services and create opportunities in a transparent way.
Governments should support fairness, equality, and inclusivity. When there is fairness and equality, young Indigenous people with disabilities will be able to get job opportunities without discrimination. Young Indigenous people with disabilities need to be provided equal access to resources that will help them to finance their projects and activities.
Young people with disabilities need a good environment, including a good working environment with facilities favorable for people with disabilities and conducive for their health. This will be achieved through construction of infrastructure that is accessible for people with disabilities.
In Kenya, the right to education for children with disabilities is guaranteed in the constitution. However, many children and young people with disabilities do not have access to education. As people with disabilities, we need to work together by creating awareness on the importance of education. The Kenyan government needs to allocate more resources, such as financial resources and human resources, to remove barriers that limit access to education for children with disabilities.
What recommendations do you have for the USAID and other donor governments on how to support engagement of young people with disabilities in political and civic life?
I would recommend that donors offer civic education to people living with disabilities in various communities by creating forums and organizing trainings in different regions that will help young people access more information for the betterment of their lives.
One recommendation is to develop a voting process that will be favorable and comfortable for persons living with disabilities, by creating a digital voting program where they can vote without travelling, as well as voting programs that are accessible for people with different types of disabilities.
It is important to train persons with disabilities on the qualities of good leadership and how to be a good leader. This will help young people with disabilities have good leadership in their societies.
Training persons with disabilities on political matters and how to navigate formal political channels will help persons with disabilities understand governance and how leadership operates and will enable them to work well with government institutions as well as other institutions.
It is also crucial to ensure the political rights of persons with disabilities regarding are protected. This will help stop discrimination against persons with disabilities when they participate in political life.
Finally, young Indigenous people with disabilities must be included in all levels of decision making processes so that issues facing them are addressed.
Youth empowerment is key for democracy development. Organizations of persons with disabilities need to work together to design programs and activities that will enable beneficiaries to be financially stable.