Government did not think about accessibility when enacting the covid-19 response or consider support for persons with disabilities. People with disabilities were forgotten in their uprooted communities during the lockdown and some of the measures designed for the majority rarely met their specific needs.
They continued to live as second class citizens because they were left out on important information that help keep them safe from the novel corona virus which continues to rise in the country. Even financial support could have helped them but no one ever thought of them
Chrisphen Ncube is a man with a disability, and crushes construction stones for selling, he lamented his situation during the lockdown.
“Things were tough, we tried to stay at home the first week and realized the situation was getting out of hand. We had little food left to eat and the packages that we were promised by the government never came. So I told my wife to remain at home while I go for work. Crushing these stones with one hand as you can see my other hand cannot help, but I had to do it so that I get food for my family. Later on my wife realized staying at home wasn’t helpful and she followed me here and we left the children at home. There were some organization that approached us and asked for our details which we provided because they said they help people like me the disabled but up to now we haven’t here from them,” said Ncube.
Speaking with this publication, Agnes Chindimba who is the Founding Executive Director of Deaf Women Included said disability at the moment is an afterthought.
“We need inclusive policies to deal with emergencies and pandemics. As it is right now disability is usually an afterthought. Involve persons with disabilities in planning. For example we need persons with disabilities in the disaster response taskforces. That way we can be sure that the needs of persons with disabilities will be taken into account.
“Give persons with disabilities an opportunity to design responses of programs that benefit other persons with disabilities. We had a problem with some videos that were produced for the deaf without consulting them. We ended up having deaf people complaining about some of the signing. Otherwise we need to economically empower persons with disabilities so that if there is any emergency then they will be able to stand on their two feet,” said Chindimba.
Lockdown measures didn’t consider support for persons with disabilities either. Support services are largely not receiving additional funding and some had to close. Lockdown measures have already exacerbated an already discriminatory environment, ramping up an existing ablest attitudes in society.
This is despite the fact that Sustainable Development Goal number 10 demand that we should empower, and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.
“There is a lot of information on the Covid-19 pandemic out there but the problem is that it is not accessible. For example the information is not in Braille so how do blind people know about it? There are lots of posters, info graphics etc but this is not in Braille.
“There is very little information in Sign Language for the deaf. Some of the announcements by President Mnangagwa didn’t have interpreter. The ZBC and Ministry of Information had to be taken to the High Court to provide interpreters.
“Many affected people are in the rural areas so there is a very big information gap which makes persons with disabilities vulnerable. At the beginning of May the network operators increased the cost of data so it became hard to access information via social media,” Chindimba added.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (Zimrights) in a report entitled, “Their Voices Matter: Community Responses to COVID-19 Measures” expressed concern over the struggles people with disability have experienced during the lockdown.
Meanwhile, cases of domestic violence rose during the lockdown. Women and girls with disabilities are already more likely to suffer violence and abuse and this is worrisome. In addition, most available support is not accessible and information about them is not provided in accessible formats: this leads to women and girls having no access to help, left alone and isolated in an abusive environment.
Some organisations for persons with disabilities had to spend extra time and energy just to ensure sign language interpreters captioning, and accessible information themselves, without support from the government.
At the global level, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has included the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities adopted at the end of 2006 in its operations as well as has joined the UN working group on disabilities.
It is imperative that equality bodies proactively educate and raise awareness to these discriminating attitudes and how they affect the lives of persons with disabilities.
People with disabilities are amongst the hardest hit by the lockdown effects since most of them are unemployed there is need for the government to consider this group when enacting lockdown so that they are not left behind.