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People with disabilities facing access to information challenges


By Delicious Mathuthu

People living with disabilities in Zimbabwe are being left out of Covid-19 response programmes because of the general unavailability of messages about the pandemic that are tailor made for them.

This came to the fore on the side-lines of the 2021 National Disabilities Expo held in Gweru, where it was revealed that people living with disabilities (PLWDs) were not adequately covered during the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination programme because of lack of information.

Nigel Panashe Tahwa, an advocate for rights of PLWDs, said communication was a huge barrier for them in understanding the country’s response to Covid-19.

“In the disability community we lack information,” Tahwa said in an interview.

“Some of us are not even fully aware of what is happening during this era of Covid-19.

“You just hear people saying there is a lockdown, buts some members of our community do not know what is happening around them because we have people that have hearing impairments or are blind.”

He said although Sign Language was now one of Zimbabwe’s official languages, there were few materials on Covid-19 that were in Sign Language.

“We are saying let’s have most programmes on television interpreted into Sign Language …” Tahwa said.

“Radio is also a good tool for communication, but still it doesn’t reach all people with different impairments.”

Here few PLWDs were taking the Covid-19 vaccines because they lacked relevant information.

Tahwa said the government can partner with organisations representing PLWDs to produce relevant materials on Covid-19 to benefit the community.

“The public sector must join hands with organisations that focus on people with disabilities to strategise going forward,” he said.

“If we continue neglecting some sectors in the disabilities sector we are not going anywhere as a nation and as the world. 

“We need inclusivity and let us have the information that is currently on the ground, let us be informed.” 

Elizabeth Phiri, a Gweru-based social worker, said PLWDs had no access to legitimate information on Covid-19.  

“They are being left out and as we speak, PLWDs are relying on information being given by other people and not directly from the source; information that is biased because those who inform them only give them censored information, only that which they believe in,” Phiri said.

“So, myths surrounding vaccination are still doing the rounds and dominant among PLWDs because that is what they know and what they are told by some of these third parties.”

She said PLWDs should represent themselves in advancing their rights and needs.

“Let us have inclusive programmes when dealing with PWDs,” Phiri said.

“When policies are made or when those policies are put into action, let’s look at all sides because now, the majority of people representing PWDs are able bodied individuals.

“Able bodied people are speaking for them instead of them speaking for themselves.”

A recent United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Southern Africa regional office in Zimbabwe research revealed that most of the information on Covid-19 meant for PLWDs was not relevant to them.

“Access to Covid-19 information in accessible formats for persons with various disabilities is another challenge,” read the research report.

“While 65 percent of the persons interviewed admitted they have received regular information, 82 percent found the information received not really useful.” 

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