Advance information access for people with disabilities

Advance information access for people with disabilities

Date: July 6, 2020
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By Nqobani Ndlovu,

Bulawayo, 8 July: Zimbabweans living with disabilities feel left out in the fight against Covid-19 two months after the government was dragged to court by advocacy groups representing persons with hearing and visual impairments demanding information on the disease in formats they could access.

A mother of 5 from Pumula suburb, Violet Maphosa has shouldered the task of conveying Covid-19 preventive and awareness information to her 19 year old daughter, Sinqobile who suffers a hearing impairment.

“Had it not been my mother, family members and the organisation that represents some of us with disabilities, I would be in the dark about Covid-19,” Sinqobile narrated through sign language translated to this reporter by her mother.

“There have not been any recognisable efforts to help people with disabilities like myself with accessible information in formats we understand…there are no special programs for us. All the information appears to be targeted at the able-bodied.”

The Health and Child Care ministry with other partners has been availing Covid-19 information through the short messaging services (SMS), print and broadcast media but not in a format that is accessible to those with hearing and visual impairments.

Zimbabwe’s constitution, in particular Section 83, deals with the rights of persons with disabilities, with the Disabled Persons Act as the primary law that addresses issues to do with disability in the country.

The country is also state party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Rights of the Child

However, the Rare Diseases and Disabilities Africa (RaDDA) Foundation, a local non-profit making organisation that represents people with rare diseases and disabilities, said it was disappointing that authorities fail to pass the test on the right to access to information for the disabled in the fight against Covid-19.

RaDDA cited Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities which calls on state parties to take all measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to “receive and impart” information through all forms of communication of their choice.

The Convention mandates state parties to provide information “intended for the general public to persons with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities in a timely manner and without additional cost;

“Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions…”

According to the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (Naschoh), Zimbabwe has a population of nearly 1.8milion people living with disabilities, with half of this population said to be the deaf and mute.

Furthermore, UN Women says one in every five women in Zimbabwe lives with a disability and the number is estimated to surpass that figure. The common disabilities in Zimbabwe include Down’s syndrome, dwarfism, visual and hearing impairment, dumb and cretinism.

Jullian Nyarota, the RaDDA media liaison officer bemoaned the fact that people living with disabilities continue to have their rights violated despite the UN in December 1992 recognising the day of the disabled to mobilise support for the dignity, rights and their well-being.

“Even before the onset of Covid 19, our country has been facing challenges when it comes to addressing the needs of the visually impaired through the use of Braille,” Nyarota said.

“Most visually impaired people therefore depend almost entirely on their caregivers, family and friends for the dissemination of information and in this case, on issues to do with Covid 19. RaDDA Foundation has addressed this through ensuring that caregivers are equipped with adequate and the right information on Covid 19.”

RaDDA Foundation is a non-profit making organization that seeks to assist and advocate for patients with rare diseases in Zimbabwe with a particular inclination towards the rural communities within the country.

RaDDA was founded in 2108 by Tinotenda Mudarikwa, who himself has suffered from a rare medical condition, known as imperforate anus (IA) from birth.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities are seen to have an increased risk for exposure, complications, and death.

According to the Unicef, inaccessible information and communication mean that persons with hearing, visual, intellectual or physical disabilities may not receive key information about prevention and assistance, putting them at greater risk from Covid-19.

“In the meanwhile, RaDDA has gone a step further and is producing a mask specifically for those living with hearing impairments. This mask is special in that it has a plastic see-through section that allows the wearer to lip-read thus ensuring effective communication,” Nyarota noted.

In April, the Centre for Disability and Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind sued the government and the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) demanding to be provided with information on coronavirus in a format which is accessible to them.

They argued that failure to provide information on coronavirus in a format accessible to persons with disabilities was not only a violation of the rights of access to information and other constitutional rights, but posed a health risk to them and their family members.

The RaDDA advocacy organisation made an impassioned call for immediate response, addressing the specific needs of persons with disabilities to maintain their health, safety, dignity, and independence in the community throughout the COVID-19 outbreak and related health emergencies.

“RaDDA has gone further to organise training workshops for rare disease patients and people living with disabilities as well as their care-givers on matters to do with Covid 19, self-awareness and entrepreneurship to assist the neglected members of our society who have disabilities,” Nyarota added.

Nqobani Ndlovu is a journalist from Zimbabwe . This story is part of the GL New Service Gender and COVID 19 news series.

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