Kenya update: With the right wheelchair, Jane got her groove back

By Shelby Stapleton, Field Partnerships Advisor

Living with a disability can be challenging in many different ways, but even more so for those living in developing countries. Shelby Stapleton travelled to Kenya recently to see how one World Vision supported project is helping to address some of these challenges.

“In Kenya I met a whole bunch of different people – everyone from wheelchair users, their families, World Vision staff and local health teams that are involved in the project.

One person that really stood out was Jane, who was incredibly inspiring. She’s only 25 and just completely full of life and colour – from the moment I met her she was just bursting to chat. She spent at least two hours just talking about her life and how much a new wheelchair had made a positive impact on her life.

Jane was disabled in a car accident about five years ago. When she left hospital after her accident she was given an old, heavy wheelchair, which she couldn’t push herself. She couldn’t really leave her home and her family didn’t really know how to care for her. So she became very isolated. There is a lot of stigma around disability in Kenya, and her family saw her as a burden, so she became depressed and couldn’t really do anything that a young person normally does.

Many people often think it’s quite simple to just give out a wheelchair, but it really isn’t. A wheelchair is like a pair of glasses, and must be prescribed by a trained professional, and fitted specifically for the wheelchair user. Every person is different, and therefore so is every wheelchair. A wheelchair must also be appropriate for your environment, to allow you to do the activities you want to do. The wrong wheelchair can give someone serious secondary injuries if it’s not fitted well, or if it’s not checked and adjusted regularly – especially for children who grow and change so fast.

Jane received her wheelchair through an innovative project called ACCESS that is funded by USAID and supported by World Vision Australia through wheelchair donations. The project links APDK - a local service provider, Motivation Charitable Trust – a wheelchair technical expert, and World Vision, to ensure that clients not only get the right wheelchair in the right way, but also support to fully participate in their communities. Jane was one of the first recipients of a new wheelchair through this World Vision project. It is a light, very user-friendly chair which allows her to wheel herself around, and participate in her bustling social life!

But this project is about so much more than just a new wheelchair! One of the most important parts of this process is what happens next. It’s nice to have a brand new wheelchair, but if you don’t know how to use it, and if your family and community hold negative beliefs about disability, you can still be isolated and alone.

As part of the project, World Vision and our partners – Motivation Charitable Trust – run a peer group training course, where people are taught how to use their wheelchair by another wheelchair user. They’re taught how to navigate stairs and ramps, and how to do a wheelie! Importantly, they’re also taught how they can be active citizens and participate in their own communities – how to challenge stigma and change attitudes.

For me, this project highlighted the most critical part of World Vision’s role – to facilitate inclusive environments for people with disabilities; working with communities to change attitudes and provide education about what it means to be disabled to help communities be more open and accepting.

One of my favourite quotes from Jane was: “Change begins with you.” She said, “Now that I am more confident in my wheelchair, I am happy. And because I am happy, people feel like they can approach me.”

She’s been able to educate people about disability and the challenges she faces. Because of this project she can go out dancing with her friends, she can go to church, she goes to university, and she’s just about to finish her degree.

And the most exciting part for me was that she wants to run for a seat in parliament in the next election! She’s got a pretty good chance because the Kenyan Government have a system that people with physical disabilities have to be represented in parliament, to make sure they’re inclusive. It will be really great news if she is successful!

People with physical disabilities are some of the most vulnerable people that World Vision works with, but when wheelchair users receive appropriate wheelchairs in the right way and return to a community that is inclusive, educated, accepting, and richer because of diversity, everyone benefits.”