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2020 IDPWD: "Not all disabilities are visible”

3 December 2020

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3rd December) and this year’s theme is ‘not all disabilities are visible’, something that is at the heart of Sense International’s work with people with deafblindness.

Deafblindness, the combination of sight and hearing impairments, is a disability that is often not visible and as a result it is often not recognised by parents when their child is born, or by governments around the world in their policies.

One way Sense International is raising awareness of deafblindness is through our screening and early intervention programmes which establish sight and hearing tests for babies – something that is currently not standard in countries, such as Kenya. Once a child is identified with a sight and/or hearing impairment, the child is referred to Sense International’s programme which provides vital support to the child and the wider family.

Earlier this year, we were delighted to run our Chance To Shine appeal, which raised money to establish a groundbreaking screening and early intervention programme in rural Kenya.

Thank you

We are thrilled to let you know that thanks to your support, the appeal raised £813,365, including £383,794 of match funding by the UK government. Match funding will pay for sight and hearing tests for 55,000 children in rural Kenya, and provide vital support to children with deafblindness in their early years.

As part of the appeal we shared the stories of Bravin and Sospeter who were able to benefit from a previous programme in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi. Since we shared those stories with you, a lot has change particularly with COVID-19 taking hold of the world.

During times of crisis, the most vulnerable members of society are often the ones most severely affected, and sadly that is the case in Kenya during this pandemic.

The effects of COVID-19 in Kenya have been wide-ranging and include: reduced access to health services and medication due to restrictions on movement; a lack of safety information in accessible formats; a loss of personal and communication support for people with deafblindness, including guides, interpreters and therapists, due to lockdown and social distancing guidelines, as well as loss of livelihoods.

Sense International’s priority remains the people with deafblindness and that includes Bravin and Sospeter, as well as the launch of our Chance To Shine programme, so please find an update on their stories below:


A young boy sitting on his mother's lap. She's holding a sensory toy.

We first met Bravin when he was three-years-old. He had been born blind and with complex needs - fortunately, Bravin’s mother Naomi found the support she needed when a nurse introduced her to the Sense International Kenya team at her local health clinic.

Bravin, now 5 years-old has really grown and is trying to walk independently with the help of a walking frame. While he still cannot talk, through Sense International’s work he has been enrolled to join an inclusive school in Nairobi.  

When COVID-19 spread to Kenya, Bravin’s mother lost her food supply and she is now doing casual jobs. She sometimes has to wash clothes for people in the flat where she lives to get some money to support her son. The reduction in work has been tough on her as a single mother and the family is now receiving food and PPE, as well as accessible information on COVID-19 through our Rapid Response Fund project. Naomi will also receive psycho-social support to cope with raising a child with a disability as a single mother without a steady income.


A young boy sits on his mother's lap, who is smiling at the camera. There are colourful toys next to them.

Sospeter was born deaf, with complex medical needs. The diagnosis left the parents desperate for answers, feeling alone, with no-one to support them. Now nearly 6-years-old, Sospeter, through Sense International funded therapy, has learnt to walk independently, feed himself, and communicate with his mother.

Since we introduced you to him and thanks to Sense International’s work, Sospeter was fitted with hearing aids. Doctors say that his hearing has improved especially in his left ear. You can now see him trying to listen to sounds and even trying to imitate them. The biggest challenge, and potentially due to yet undiagnosed autism, is that Sospeter is restless and keeps on taking the hearing aids off. Sospeter’s mother wishes there was a type of hearing aid with anchors to the ear so that they wouldn’t come off easily.

The family was also hit hard by COVID-19. Sospeter’s father who runs a motorbike taxi business could no longer get customers, as riding on a motorbike was considered to present a high risk of catching the virus. Due to the lack of income and the family’s reduced access to income it became a challenge to obtain Sospeter’s epilepsy medication.

While business for Sospeter’s father is slightly improving, the family have also been supported through our Rapid Response Funding project and have been supplied with food and medicines, PPE and accessible information on COVID.

We are also pleased to now be supporting Sospeter’s education by including him in our inclusive education project, which will see him benefit from 1:1 home based education, and later on proceed to school-based education.

Next steps for Chance To Shine

We are pleased to let you know that thanks to your incredible support earlier this year, the Chance To Shine programme officially launched on 1st October 2020. The first steps of the project include building relationships within health facilities in Kwale and Garissa, to establish where we can integrate sight and hearing tests within maternity units and offer therapies to those children identified with deafblindness / multi-sensory impairments.

We expect the units to be set up by March 2021 and hope to have screened 13,750 children for sight and hearing impairments within the first year of the project. It is expected that out of the 13,750 children screened for sensory impairments, 31 children will be enrolled in the early intervention service through which they and their parents will receive support.

Besides establishing the Early Intervention units during the first few months of the project, the Sense International Kenya team will also set up Steering Committees and Technical Committees in both counties to work with the local governments and advocate for them to take on the programme in the longer term.

We look forward to telling you more about how the appeal funds are being used and the support we provide to children with deafblindness over the course of the 3-year project.

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First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019