By Stephen Macharia
The Short Stature Society of Kenya (SSK), an organization representing persons living with Dwarfism in Kenya, has decried harassment and stigmatization meted out to its members by a section of matatu operators.
Ruth Mueni, SSK vice chair said people of short stature, especially women, at times experience inappropriate touches from matatu operators at bus stops. “Some of us, specifically short statured women have experienced harassment at bus stops.
The operators under the pretence of helping us board a matatu, sometimes touch us inappropriately,” Ruth told Safari Njema Magazine in an interview in Nairobi. She further urged the government to train public service vehicles crew in handling people living with disability adding that short-statured persons remain disadvantaged in the public transport sector.
“Boarding a bus is usuall y a challenge. There seems to be no standards in the construction of the steps people use to board buses. Some of the vehicles are highly raised consequently making it difficult for people living with dwarfism to board buses. There is a need to incorporate our interests in the construction of PSVs”, she added.
Ruth opines that the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) should embark on nationwide sensitization campaigns to educate matatu and boda-boda operators on how to handle people living with disability. “We are normal people despite our height,” she says noting that there are over 3,000 people living with dwarfism in Kenya.
Despite occasional harassment and stigmatization, Ruth hopes for a safe environment in public transport as SSK plans to embark on a sensitization campaign across the country. Key among the messages she hopes to spread to Kenyans is urging members of the public to embrace people with dwarfism as part of the Kenyan society.
“Some Kenyans think people living with dwarfism are grossly disabled. That is not true. Most short-statured people can perform almost all duties pertaining to a human being,” she told Safari Njema. The vice chair further urged the government to come up with vehicle designs that incorporate the needs of people living with disability.
According to Ruth, many PSVs, and especially buses, have highly placed steps, making it difficult for people living with dwarfism as well any other physical disability to easily board. However, the government, through the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) requires passenger service vehicles (PSVs) to undergo inspection prior to registration to operate.
Among requirements for licensing is bus compliance to a bus body building standard dubbed KS 372:2014. Kenya Association of Bus Manufacturers (KABM), an affiliate of Kenya Association Of Manufacturers, is designated to ensure conformity for Passenger Vehicle Body Design and Construction. “The lowest step for entering into the vehicle shall not exceed a height of 460 mm from the ground on unladen weight.
Mechanical suspensions shall solely be maximum 430 mm. This ensures that persons with disabilities can gain access to the priority seat(s) without having to negotiate any further steps,” reads part of the specifications in the KS 372:2014 standard. In a previous interview with Safari Njema, KABM Chief Executive Officer Eng. Carey Mbaraka cited weak law enforcement as a drawback to PSV compliance to the standard. Mbaraka said bus body manufactures to comply with the specifications during the bus body building stage.
“Inadequate enforcement is hampering implementation of the safety standards as some vehicles once they get conformity approvals and registrations documents go to backstreet garages for modifications consequently interfering with approved designs,” Mbaraka told Safari Njema magazine.