By Alois Vinga
While Covid-19 has emerged as the worst nightmare to confront humankind in more than a century, for Zimbabwe’s deaf community the pandemic is a double-edged sword exposing them to extreme economic and social hardships.
In an interview , Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) communications officer ,Tinotenda Chikunya, said the pandemic had disrupted the sources of income of many in this community.
“Persons with disabilities mostly rely on informal trading as a way to make a living. They were not economically ready for the protracted Covid-19 lock downs given their reliance on informal trading,” she said.
“Lack of a steady income made them vulnerable to different forms of abuse due to social ills that they resorted to in order to put food on the table.
“Many of them are now putting up illegal vending stalls in their neighborhoods which often results in scuffles with police officers, and in the process exposes them to Covid-19 contraction risks,” she added.
Chikunya said persons with disabilities were also struggling to access Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights services during the Covid-19 lockdowns due to restricted movements and disability unfriendly public transport systems.
“As a result many ended up defaulting on their (HIV) Antiretroviral medication due to lack of access to transport. Some people with disabilities have reported that some public transport drivers would refuse to accommodate them in buses and kombis while others were hesitant to even try and catch kombis because of fear of the congestion that happens when boarding the transport,” she said.
lack of information
The DZT official said that access to information on Covid-19 was also a big challenge as most of it was not readily available in simplified formats or Braille.
“News on the Covid-19 vaccines, prevention and help lines and facilities was rarely packaged in Sign Language or Braille, leaving out the Deaf and people with visual impairments when information was disseminated and in the process, put their lives at risk,” Chikunya said.
In a bid to mitigate the challenges, DZT has managed to ensure persons with disabilities have access to information after dragging the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to court and getting an order for the national broadcaster to use sign language on critical public and health addresses.
“We have also been packaging information on the lockdown and Covid-19 in Sign Language and sharing the information on social media platforms for the Deaf Community. We have also been spreading information on Gender Based Violence during lockdown,” she said.
She said DZT had also engaged the Primary and Secondary Education ministry and pushed for the government to also broadcast school lessons in Sign Language.
Chikunya said her organisation was also conducting disability management training courses for public and state officials to ensure inclusion that the interests of people living with disabilities were included in COVID-19 response efforts.