Sightsavers stories

“My whole life has been an example of why inclusion is important.”

A man smiling.

Collins Ombajo is a programme officer for United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), a federation of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) in Kenya which advocates for their rights.

UDPK is involved in Inclusive Futures employment programme in Kenya, which is working to ensure everyone has the same opportunities to work through formal and informal employment.

Here, he shares his personal story, his work in advocacy and what drives him to be involved in the programme.

Watch the video to find out how we're working to improve access to employment in Kenya.

People sitting, looking at a piece of paper.
Collins supports job seekers with disabilities taking part in a research session in Nairobi as part of Inclusive Futures.

My whole life has been an example of why inclusion is important

I started advocating for myself when I was at school in Western Kenya. Out of a thousand students, I was the only person with albinism.

I was asked all kinds of strange questions about my skin condition and I was often exempted from manual work due to unfounded worries about my health. There were a lot of misconceptions about me and I found myself becoming excluded.

So, I took it upon myself to ask the school administration to give me space to speak, which they agreed to. One morning, I gathered everyone together – teachers, pupils and support staff – and told them about myself and my disability. Then they were able to ask questions, as weird as they liked.

It worked. After the meeting I felt that everyone understood me better and my abilities were recognised. I soon found myself in leadership positions at the school, all because I spoke out for myself.

This experience showed me that if people with disabilities are given the right space and are included, they can give their best.

When I left school, I felt that I was placed in a society that needed inclusion

No matter how many barriers I faced, if I could speak for myself, I could be understood much better than if someone spoke for me.

This kind of openness can dramatically change people’s lives, and in some cases even save them, as I discovered when I worked for the Albinism Society of Kenya at a time when ritual killings of people with albinism was at its peak. By influencing a positive change in how albinism was perceived by the general public, we saw a reduction in killings.

A group of people sit in a cafe, working on paper together.
Job seekers with disabilities take part in a research session at a cafe in Nairobi as part of the Inclusive Futures initiative.

In Kenya, attitudes towards disability are improving – but it isn’t enough

In major towns and cities there are good levels of awareness, but the situation in rural and resource-poor communities is very different. People with disabilities are marginalised and some are still in hiding in rural homes due to community stigma.

There are many highly educated jobseekers with disabilities finding themselves thrown into a job market that is hostile to them, and employers who don’t understand their abilities or think they will require too much support.

I know so many stories of people with disabilities being forced to resign or being sacked because they face harsh working environments that won’t accommodate them. This is why we need to influence employers to create inclusive working spaces, through advocacy and with the support of the private sector and the government.

Recently, the government launched an initiative to bring unity in Kenya. However, people with disabilities were not mentioned widely across the report. I feel the Kenyan Constitution is quite inclusive – it’s only the practicability of it that is lacking.

Four people work on a big piece of paper together.

DPOs play a major role in bringing inclusion to the public space

Disabled people approaching government offices as individuals are often dismissed as beggars or in need of charity. When a DPO represents a group of disabled people, then government bodies are able to work with them. This results in effective advocacy.

In my current role as a programme officer I work on amplifying the voices of people with disabilities in Kenya. I hope to influence employers to hire more people with disabilities and adjust their environments. It’s not enough just to hire someone – that person also has to feel that the working environment accommodates them and enhances their productivity.

It’s not enough just to publish information on government websites

When it comes to communication and the sharing of ideas, work needs to be done at grassroots level and practical implementation is important.

The Inclusive Futures formal employment programme has brought various partners in the disability field together to advocate their ideas. I feel the programme is best placed to influence the implementation of these policies and laws, enhancing the accommodation of people with disabilities in all areas of society.

Through the programme, DPOs will be able to come together and speak in one voice, in a new way. So, job seekers with disabilities out there – come out and speak about yourselves. If you don’t do that, no one will see you. Nothing about us without us.

Photos: ©Sightsavers/Patrick Meinhardt

June 2020 update: Collins no longer works at UDPK but is still working within the disability movement in Kenya.

About the project

Inclusive Futures is funded through UK Aid Connect, a DFID funding initiative. It demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to global leadership on inclusive development by ensuring people with disabilities are central to international development policymaking and programmes.

Inclusive Futures
A group of people smiling.

“Job seekers with disabilities out there – come out and speak about yourselves. If you don’t do that, no one will see you. Nothing about us without us.”

A group of people smiling.

Find out more about inclusive employment

Inclusive Futures

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