There is no love as natural as a mother’s love for her children. Unfortunately, this does not make motherhood any easier. There is nothing easy about raising infants and nurturing them into responsible adults.
Now, imagine raising a child whose emotional, physical or cognitive developmental is impaired in some way from the moment they’re born or when they are still very young. It takes someone that’s more than ‘just’ a mother to pull off such a responsibility.
The World Health Organization (WHO) contends that;
Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations. Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.
Disability can, therefore, be summarized as follows;
- Impairments – problems in body function or alterations in body structure such as paralysis or blindness.
- Activity limitations – difficulties in executing activities; walking or eating.
- Participation restrictions – problems with involvement in any area of life; discrimination in employment or transportation.
Plight of the mother of children with disabilities in Kenya
According to Global Disabilities Rights Now, 10% of the population in Kenya is disabled. That’s an equivalent of 4.44 million people.
On February 21st, 2018, News Deeply published an article with the heading, In Kenya, having a child with Cerebral Palsy can mean losing your job. The story highlighted the many challenges faced by mothers with children living with Cerebral Palsy.
Unfortunately, there are way more challenges that mothers of children with different kinds of disabilities face on a daily basis. And most of these are beyond mere government interference. It starts with us, the people that live in the same community with these mothers and children. There is more we can do than just shaking our heads in pity as we silently thank the heavens for giving us what we consider normal children. But there is more to the story than we care to involve ourselves.
Lack of access to services
People living with disabilities struggle on a daily basis to have access to basic amenities of life.These services include health care, public transport, education, and jobs. Global Accessibility News reports that “More than 100,000 children with disabilities are out of school in Kenya… Statistics indicate that one in every 10 Kenyans below the age of 21 is disabled.”
With such a grim picture, it is easy to imagine just what a mother has to go through to enrol her child in school. School authorities will claim lack of assistive devices and special education teachers to serve the disabled child. If at all the child is enrolled, he/she will encounter rejection and ridicule from students that are different from them. if not properly handled and in time, the consequences of these can be long-lasting and damaging to both parent and child. Ultimately, as a result of poor or lack of education (coupled with the disability itself), it is almost impossible to acquire a job.
Isolation and oppression
It is not just the child that suffers stigma and isolation from society. The mother too experiences it. Some people would prefer staying away from such parents because they don’t want them to “guilt me into having their difficult child hang out with my kids.” Relatives and friends stay away from homes with a disabled child because it feels like a lot of work. Sometimes mothers develop such overwhelming fear resulting from the stigma their child is subjected to outside the home that eventually, they decide on their own to isolate the child from others.
Parents end up homeschooling their children for their ‘own safety.’ Getting professional care to assist mothers with children with disabilities is very expensive. Therefore, most parents have no choice but to take on the task themselves. They become more than just a mother. They become teachers, nurses, caregivers, playmates, counsellors, and friends to their children.
Traditional misconceptions associated with disabilities
There’s still a population of society that thinks that a child’s disability is a curse from God. They believe that the parents must have done something wrong and the child’s disability is a consequence of their actions.Thus, they deliberately shun such families thinking that they’re ‘protecting themselves.’
How we can get involved
Show love and support
Rather than shun families with disabled children, we need to embrace them. It is already hard enough for mothers to take care of their children. Even though they do not complain and do everything out of love and care, they need support from those around them. This support can be as simple as offering friendship instead of rejection. It can be opening up your home every now to accommodate supervised play dates with your children. It could be simply offering to babysit the child of a relative or friend after learning about the special needs of the child. Or it could be buying a bouquet of flowers for our neighbour just to tell her; “you’re doing a great job. You inspire me. Happy Mother’s Day.”
Change our perception
It is possible to change a lot of things as long as we change our perception. Instead of looking at people with disabilities as different from us, we should instead look at them simply as people dealing with challenges different from ours. They need our support and care to fight for equality and rights of their children. It is time to enlighten ourselves about the different disabilities that those around us have. And more than just us, we have to teach our children too. Leading by example, we show them how they can relate to friends at school with such challenges.
It all starts with us…and then our government.
This is the first of the series of our articles on children with disabilities in readiness for this year’s Mother’s Day in May. We would like to encourage everyone to show some love and support to mothers of children with disabilities. They can be your neighbours, church mates, parents with children at the same school as your kids, or they could be someone that lives in our community that we barely give a second glance.