Talk about Kenya and vivid images of safaris, lions, elephants and the migration of the wildebeest probably come to mind. Or if you are a coffee lover like me, you might start smelling roasted coffee beans. For Kenyans, however, coffee is considered an export product, not something for local consumption – tea and Tusk beer (at room temperature) seem to be the local favourites.
This East African country with its population of 44 million lies on the equator. It therefore only has two seasons – a dry one and a wet one! Kenya's Great Rift Valley was formed around 20 million years ago, when the crust of the Earth was split, and it runs all the way from Turkey to Mozambique.
In the heart of the capital, Nairobi, lies Kenyatta University, which hosted the 6th East African International Conference on Communication Disability from 9–11 February 2017. Prof Juan Bornman, from the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria, and Prof Ulrike Lűdtke, from the Department of Speech and Language at University of Hanover in Germany, were invited as the keynote presenters. Prof Bornman's presentation was entitled 'Communication for persons with disability: A necessity for meeting human rights'. In it she linked disability and the Sustainable Development Goals and then described human rights and their link to communication. She emphasised that communication represents an essential human need as well as a basic human right. Through communication, we can exchange opinions, thoughts and meanings, express ourselves and show our own points of view. Communication makes us who and what we are and therefore strengthens human dignity, while also validating our human equality. In Prof Lűdtke's presentation, she described the speech-language profession in sub-Saharan Africa and illustrated it with a growing seed metaphor, saying that the seeds have been planted as there are now speech-language professionals in most African countries – although they are mainly restricted to the capital cities. Springer will be publishing the Handbook of communication disabilities and language development in sub-Saharan Africa, in which you can read more about these presentations as well as other conference highlights.
The conference organisers and sponsors did an outstanding job putting together an interesting programme with a variety of sessions focusing on assessment, intervention and inclusion. The breakaway sessions allowed for conversation and deeper interrogation of some concepts, and students who presented their master's and PhD research obtained valuable feedback from the panellists. Tea and lunch times served as an engaging and effective way to network, with business cards being exchanged like currency.
On Monday, 13 February, Prof Bornman visited the Department of Special Needs Education as the guest of its chairperson Dr Nelly Otube. During a discussion with various members of the Department, it became clear that collaboration between the Centre and this Department would be highly beneficial to all involved.
In conclusion, I would like to quote Prof Paul W Wainaina, Kenyatta University's Vice-Chancellor: 'The group of people living with disabilities is also the only minority group that any single person can join, at any time, through illness, accident, conflict or, quite simply, getting older.'
This conference and a follow-up visit were just the first drops of water that could become a beautiful river of exchange, strength and power, with the potential to make a difference in the lives of persons with disabilities all over our beautiful continent.