What’s Up WID: Angeline Akai Transcripts

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Ashley Inkumsah:

Hello everyone and welcome back to What’s Up WID, The World Institute on Disability podcast, where we discuss what’s up in the disability community across the globe. If this is your first time here, I’m your host Ashley Inkumsah. And on today’s episode, I’m excited to share with you a great conversation that I had with Angeline Akai Lodi. Angeline is a Kenyan disability rights advocate who is currently participating in our Community Solutions Program fellowship here at WID. She is also a chairperson over at the Access Network of the blind in Kenya. Angeline lost her sight after contracting measles and has spent the last several years advocating for people with disabilities in the realms of education, employment, and accessibility. Angeline and I had a conversation about her experiences as a Kenyan woman with a disability and how she plans to use the knowledge that she’s gained from her fellowship at WID to continue to enact change in her community in Kenya for women, with disabilities and for the overall disabled population.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Thank you so much for joining me for today’s episode. My first question for all of our guests, before we get started is always, how are you doing today?

Angeline Akai:

I’m very grateful to be here, and to have a chat with you. Much appreciated.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Well, I’m very happy to have you here, so I can’t wait to have this conversation. So if you could please tell us about your life growing up in Kenya as a woman with a disability. How was that for you?

Angeline Akai:

It was not easy. It was never easy growing up as first; a child with a disability. That is a visual disability, I am totally blind. I lost my sight because of my measles. Unfortunately I was never immunized for measles, so it went with my sight. I grew up as a girl with a disability and unfortunately, I come from an indigenous community. Whereby there are very many issues when it comes to children with disability. So they view any person with a disability as probably a curse or a something, a punishment from the gods as they say. So growing up, I grew up from not just an indigenous community as a girl and children who are girls are not viewed to bring wealth in the community. Luckily I had parents who were very supportive, despite background, meaning that I was raised in a background that was not… we did not have the humble beginning where my parents had to look for something small just to keep us going, just food or shelter and it was never easy.

Angeline Akai:

So luckily the education I got was from well-wishers who supported my education from primary level to high school and to college. It was never easy, disability’s interlinked mostly to poverty. And I thank those who supported me in one way or the other, including my parents who supported me to having the good education that I did. There’s a lot, as a culture and as a woman, that I am right now, we face a lot of discrimination first as a woman, and secondly as a woman with disability. That’s a brief about me.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Like you said, disability is linked to poverty. It’s the same way here in America. One system empowers the other. I’m happy though, that you had your family there as a support system for you. That is amazing and wonderful. Can you share with us a little bit more about the overall sentiment towards… you shared a little bit. You talked about how disability in Kenya is viewed as like a curse from the gods. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like the sentiment towards people with disabilities in general and women and girls with disabilities, how are they generally treated in Kenya?

Angeline Akai:

There are a lot of challenges though, we are coming out of it slowly by slowly. Despite having the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability by our country, Kenya, the implementation has been a problem. And so we face that lots of challenges. The CRPD recognizes that women and girls with disabilities are often at a greater risk, both within and outside the home because of the finances, injuries or abuse, or the negligence or malnourishments that come with it. And also the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities acknowledges that women with disabilities are subjects to multiple discrimination and further, it calls on all governments to take appropriate measures to ensure that there’s empowerment of the same persons, to guarantee them the exercise and enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The implementation has been a problem though, we are trying, the Kenyan government is really trying its level best. As a woman with disability it is not often the case that women and girls with disabilities would have the spaces to exercise leadership owing to many barriers that they face.

Angeline Akai:

Indeed, woman with disabilities have decried the fact that their voices… Our voices and issues more often than not, fall within the cracks of both the human rights movements and as well as the disability movements. When we have no secure space that this critical social movements, we see the leadership of women with disability relegated to the margins and we cannot articulate our issues as women with disabilities or also in the tables, even spaces on issues, that really concern us. So it has been a lot.

Angeline Akai:

We have a lot of challenges from access to health care, education, and also political participation. We try our level best to try and get into these spaces in as much as they are not supportive to us, we’ll get into the spaces, we infiltrate and ensure that we have a voice and the voice of women with disabilities are mainstreamed in the larger women’s rights movement. The issues women face, we feel that also with the interactions we’ve had with a lot of women with disabilities, some are going through, for example, forced sterilization without their consent. We’re championing for rights whereby we get the sexual reproductive health and rights with trainings and access to the same… yes, there’s a lot that we are facing as women with disabilities in Kenya.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yeah. So the lack of implementation of a law, that’s yet another thing that is a global issue that is very prevalent here in the United States and across the globe, that laws are passed, to protect people with disabilities, but they’re not ever implemented properly by the government is so common. And how are you currently working towards ending the discrimination towards women who are disabled and particularly people who are blind in Kenya. Can you tell us about your work that you’re doing?

Angeline Akai:

I’m a chairperson of Access Network of the blind, it’s a community-based organization where we advocate for rights of persons who are Blind or vision impaired and also in the same organization, we ensure that we equip Blind women the necessary skills or trainings, or just mentorship to ensure that they are able to speak out for themselves, that they are the voices, the shoe wearer knows where the shoe pinches. And for them to be able to have this knowledge and the training for them to speak out for themselves. So the discrimination against women and girls with disability will eventually come to an end because I believe first, they are women and the disability follows, so no one should be discriminated based on their disability or their gender. So we train them, we have mentorship and we also ensure that we have this dialogues or create the spaces enabling environments so that they are able to articulate their issues themselves.

Ashley Inkumsah:

You’re doing some really important work. It’s really interesting-

Angeline Akai:

Thank you.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yes, absolutely. It’s interesting. All of the overlap that as you’re explaining this to me, so many of these issues, all of these issues are also prevalent across the globe, but yeah, a lot of commonalities are resonating with me as you’re talking about your story. A lot of those issues go on everywhere. People with disabilities, particularly, and women with disabilities are marginalized. And I’m so glad that you’re doing this important work to change that and to give women agency to speak out.

Angeline Akai:

Thank you.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Thank you. Absolutely. So you’ve been, you’ve been a fellow with WID for a couple of months now, what have you experienced as a fellow and what projects have you been working on?

Angeline Akai:

The experience is super awesome. The experience has been great. Actually I’m a fellow of the Community Solutions Program. WID has come in handy in ensuring that I get the necessary skills. Skills that I think or feel that I had, or did not have the same skills because being in an organization that is two years old and as a volunteer on this organization, because we don’t even have funding, we have never received any funds so we work from our own little money that you get.

Angeline Akai:

CSP has really helped me or equipped me a lot, empowering myself to ensure that I give the best that I can in the community and WID has, like I said, come in handy to equip me with the necessary skills, like for example, grant writing and accessibility testing, which honestly I feel that is very key in my country because the websites are not accessible. Currently, I am learning a lot on grant writing and I’m sure very soon I will also address the issue of accessibility testing in the website of our country, Kenya, starting from the government and to the corporates, just to ensure that we are not left behind in terms of accessing information in the websites and the digital platform.

Angeline Akai:

So I am really humbled to be part of this and glad that I am learning a lot, and this will go a long way, in ensuring that I offer the best that I can in Kenya and support my very own persons with visual impairments, who in the past have been left behind in terms of development, yet, we also contribute to the well-being and the development of the whole country, Kenya. So this, I’m sure will be an ongoing case whereby persons with visual impairments are not left behind but will be part of the whole processes from the inception to the policy implementations and will all benefit. So much appreciation to WID and the CSP team for coming up with this very noble cause whereby we get trained and eventually we implement in our various respective countries.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit more about the grant writing experience and what specific things that you’ve learned about grant writing and also the accessibility or user testing? Can you tell us about what exactly you’ve been doing and a little more about what you’ve learned during those two projects.

Angeline Akai:

In accessibility to testing I’m still learning, it’s very true that we in Kenya are facing challenges accessing this website and what I’m learning right now is how to involve the government, for example and the corporates, and ensuring that they are cognizant to the fact that we are a bigger, a larger population of persons with disabilities and different sectors of disabilities’ access different. So as blind persons in Kenya, we are facing that accessing these websites or the portals, the digital platforms is hard. So I’m learning that, just benchmarking in the good practices of America, that WID has been out there ensuring that accessibility is taken good care of. And we can replicate this to my country, Kenya and the whole of Africa, to ensure that we make these platforms accessible for all. So I’m still in the learning process.

Angeline Akai:

And currently I’m taking the… I’m so excited about this and making sure that these are implemented in my country and or secondly, we have this many corporates, like I said earlier and government institutions and there are policies in place that or laws in place that they should make this platforms accessing for all, including persons with disabilities. But I think they need more push. They need to push them and to show them how they can go about it. They might not be aware of how to go about this. So they need some people, they need someone or a group of people to let them know that this is happening so that the learning, or that’s the lesson that I’m learning from this CSP team. And grant writing, well, I’m taking home that there’s a process that needs to be done.

Angeline Akai:

We need to put our houses in order and objectives in place and how to go about our activities. Things that we do not… in the past have never maybe put the records in place, what we do, how we have done it and why we think we should do the activities. We have not recorded the things that we’ve been doing. So that’s the lens that I’m learning from the grant writing and ensuring that there’s proper monitoring and evaluation processes of funds that might come or funds that are coming within the organization and how we are working on the sustainability of some programs.

Ashley Inkumsah:

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Ashley Inkumsah:

Why do you think that accessibility is so important? And how could it really change the lives of people with disabilities? Why is it so important that we make websites and everything really accessible?

Angeline Akai:

Very important. It is very important to make, for example, the websites accessible for persons with disability because in the past we used to use a lot of money to buy the newspapers, newspapers that you would not be able to read yourself, newspapers that are advertising for jobs, for example. If I’m a blind person I’m not able to read this newspaper, I need to look for someone who might maybe require me to pay for… this person may require some payments. For you as a person with disability, who’s unemployed, for example, you’re not able to even cater for your basic needs. How are you going to even cater for the money, for someone who’s going to help you submit or read for you this newspaper that is advertising for a job, for example. This accessibility is very key because if these issues are taken good care of, persons with disability are able to be self-reliant or independent they are able to select for themselves.

Angeline Akai:

They’re able to be part of the whole processes, part of the conversations that are arising in the digital platforms, they are able to be, like I said, self-reliant and independent. You don’t need someone to be there for you. You can do it yourself. If you have the necessary skills you are trained, or you know how to use these gadgets, like the screen readers, you don’t need someone to do what you can do yourself. So it is sort of a level playing ground, a level playing field whereby it bridges that gap for the persons with disability and the non-disabled persons. So it bridges that gap, accessibility is very key.

Ashley Inkumsah:

And how do you plan to use the work that you’ve learned as a fellow? How do you plan to use that within your community in Kenya?

Angeline Akai:

Wow, I’m planning a lot. My prayer is that everything that I’m planning with come to fruition and the implementation will take place, that is my greatest fear. I just want to implement everything that I have learned and ensure that I equip everyone, the people that I work with, with the same relevant information that I’m gaining from here. And this has given me more energy, it has invigorated me.

Angeline Akai:

It has given me more energy to continue working how I can do my level best in ensuring that implementation of projects and ensuring that a person who has a visual impairment live a life with dignity, and also just removing that notion where persons with disability are viewed as agents of charity and change that to persons with disability, being the agents of change, being part of change and bringing the same to the larger society, that changing that mindset of people. I will come up with several projects that will ensure that the visibility of persons with disability being agents of change and not objects of charity, the way people usually view us. So I’m going to implement more of this, changing the narrative and ensuring that persons with disability are the fore in advancing their rights.

Ashley Inkumsah:

That’s a great plan and I think that once you leave us, you’ll be very equipped with the tools to do so. So I’m really excited to see what you’re going to do in the community.

Angeline Akai:

I’m already having those skills and I’m open to learn, continue learning more.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. Yes. What advice would you give to women and girls with disabilities in Kenya and really across the globe? Because we talked about how these problems are so pervasive in all countries. So what advice would you give to women and girls with disabilities within their communities who are trying to enact change, but are facing discrimination? How would you advise them to navigate that? Like you’re doing.

Angeline Akai:

Oh, I would tell them that the road is not smooth. It is rough. But the only thing I can tell them is not to give up, never giving up. People like in Africa, they will name-call you with your disability. You will be abused emotionally, but we as disability rights advocates, we don’t give up. You should never give up, but continue taking those challenges as a stepping stone and saying that, “yes, if these are the challenges and willing to”. There’s a generation that is coming up after us. And if we don’t create an enabling environment for them to come and see what we have done and how they can continue with our legacy, we’ll do nothing. So I can tell them not to give up the road is never smooth. It is always rough, but the most important thing is not giving up and ensuring that we talk, we have that voice, we voice our issues.

Angeline Akai:

We engage with those people that we should engage with and also being part of the whole processes, even if it means for you to get in there when women… for example, the women are talking, the mainstream women, like they’re always called, are talking about their issues and you feel that there’s a gap when it comes to women with disability, we need to get in there and speak out for the millions of women with disabilities who have no one to speak for. So it’s for us to wake up and say that enough is enough. And right now we need to be felt and heard.

Ashley Inkumsah:

That’s fantastic advice. And I’m curious, what advice would you give to the Kenyan government? And really again, governments in general, across the globe, in regards to, including people with disabilities and accessibility, what advice would you give to the government?

Angeline Akai:

The advice that I can give to the government is that we, disability fraternity are a bigger number. We are a large number and no one should be left behind because of the disability and the policies that are in place, the laws that are in place need to be implemented. So I ask the government to ensure that no one is left behind because of their disability, race, gender, and all that, they’re not left behind. And all the policies that come up, put into consideration the well-being of us, persons with disabilities, and to ensure that we participate meaningfully in all those processes. I always say participating meaningfully in all processes, because if we are viewed as an afterthought whereby they come with policies that none of us or no one with disability was involved in. It will not make any sense because no one knows where the shoe pinches, it’s only the shoe wearer that knows.

Angeline Akai:

So the government should ensure that they include persons with disability in the decisions and also in the processes that are required for policy formulations and the government should ensure that the laws that are in place are implemented to the latter and that we are treated with dignity and respect because the laws are there. If they are there and they’re not implemented. That means that a certain number of persons feel marginalized. And this is not the era where we should look people and see that they don’t have any meaning to the society.

Angeline Akai:

I like this principle in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, whereby it talks about the meaningful and full participation of persons with disability in the society. So in the past, we were not included by right now, the constitution and the laws that are in place, which many countries ratified the Convention on the Rights on Persons with Disability. We have been relegated to the margins we have in the past. We have been not participating in everything that pertains us, but now for us to feel included in the society and in the developments of the countries, we need to be part of the whole process.

Ashley Inkumsah:

I could not have said it better. You said it so eloquently and yes, they need to, they need to implement the laws, not just pass them. It’s about implementing them and including people with disabilities in every realm of the planning and of society. So that’s fantastic advice as well.

Angeline Akai:

Just want to say that this is a great opportunity and I’m very much humbled to be part of this conversation. And I hope everyone is doing their level best… and person with disability is doing their level best in ensuring that disabilities lives are treated well. I mean, any person with disability should feel respected.

Ashley Inkumsah:

How can people who are not disabled, how can they join in this fight for liberation and equity, and equality for people with disabilities? How can people who are not disabled… What is their role in all of this?

Angeline Akai:

Wow, well, they have a big role to play. Remember this, non-disabled persons, are our sisters, are our friends, are people that hold our hands in schools, they are people that are very passionate. They have a very big role to change the narrative and to ensure that in the conversations that they hold, they should not leave anyone behind. I just liked this phrase of not leaving no one behind. So they’re very important. There are the core in ensuring that we, persons with disabilities, lives matter. They should ensure that their voices are there. They should be the voice when we are not there, they should speak out when issues or for example, violence arises and persons with disability have been attacked and things like that.

Angeline Akai:

They should be at the forefront. And in fact, not just persons who are non-disabled, but also other partners, for example, in the legal justice system, in the government, in corporates, they should not leave us behind. They should be there with us. They should ensure that persons with disabilities’ issues are dealt with because we are part of the larger community. And we are part of the bigger community. And if our lives is affected in one way or the other, their lives also will be affected. And if we live a life well also, they will also be there and celebrate with us. So they’ll be at the forefront with us.

Angeline Akai:

We should partner together with them, they should be part of this whole conversations. They should work hand in hand with persons with disabilities in ensuring that the rights for persons with disabilities are adhered to.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. Yes. I think there’s strength in numbers and in a community. And we need as many people out fighting the good fight in order for people with disabilities to be granted the rights that they deserve. I think we need everyone. We need as many people as possible. Like you said.

Angeline Akai:

Absolutely.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Well, thank you so much, Angeline. This conversation was amazing. It was really great and thought provoking to hear that there’s so many similarities in your country to the United States to, so many other countries across the globe. Now it only makes it more increasingly clear that we really do need to fight to change the world on a global stage. And it was just fantastic to have this conversation with you. It was great. So thank you for talking to me.

Angeline Akai:

Thank you too, much appreciated. Thank you very much.

Ashley Inkumsah:

It was so great to have this conversation with Angeline and learn about all of the parallels that people in Kenya with disabilities share with people here in the United States and really in all countries across the globe. But I know that Angeline is committed to shifting the paradigm so that people with disabilities in Kenya are granted the rights that they deserve. And I’m really excited for all of her hard work to come to fruition. Now you can find transcripts and American sign language interpretations for today’s episode and each and every episode. In fact of What’s Up WID, on our website at http://www.wid.org/whats-up-wid and I would like to just think Angeline once again for the wonderful conversation, she was absolutely amazing. And thank you all at home for listening, watching, or reading today’s episode. And I will talk to you all next time.

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