Questions and Answers
What is the impact of Covid-19 on the right to health of persons with disabilities?
Access to health services normally is a challenge for many persons with disabilities, particularly for persons with visual and hearing impairments. During the pandemic it is essential that persons with visual and hearing impairments have access to information in formats that meet their needs, information in Braille, electronic format, or large print for persons with visual impairments and in sign language for those who are Deaf.
What are some promising practices?
From the context of Namibia, there have seen some efforts to provide information in accessible formats, including a short video in sign language about Covid-19 on Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Tv during the COVID-19 update. Also, the multi-ministerial committee addressing the pandemic has asked for input on the needs of persons with disabilities, so that they can take those into account. Although the Covid-19 communication center has availed a sign language interpreter as well as a few videos in sign language have been made, however, the modus on accessibilities to this information remained a concern. Some persons with different disabilities stay / live in remote areas where the mode of communication use may be compromised by several factors. All these practices are related to the Namibian context, but there should definitely be more practices in other countries.
What are some of the key actions the state and other stakeholders can consider??
Make information available and accessible by all persons with disabilities. Further, information should best suit each types of disabilities, i.e. Braille, sign language and other communication tactile for the intellectual impairment. The public should also be made aware about the needs of different persons with disabilities such as masks and the deaf persons, the intellectually impaired persons, persons with visual impairment, etc. Wherever there is a sign language interpreter, sometimes the frame is too small that the Deaf person cannot see well; making the info into large prints and bigger frame would be better. Ensure that persons with mental health issues have access to their medications and to therapy if they are experiencing pandemic related stress. With e-learning being offered from schools, ensure the needs of children with disabilities are addressed. Organizations of people with disabilities can and should play a key role in raising awareness on COVID-19 and people with disabilities in the community. Authorities must provide websites with plain text and sign language interpretation in larger size for those who are partially sighted. In providing sevices to the public, authorities must consider their commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially Article 9 (accessibility) and Article 11 (situations of risk and humanitarian emergency).
Is it advised that additional protective measures must be taken for people with certain types of impairment?
Yes, like persons with intellectual impairment may not understand the need to wear a mask. While the visual impaired may be two times more at risk. The law enforcement officers, and other health service providers may not have effectively communicate to the deaf due to the mask barrier that cover the face. Some persons with hearing impairment can lip-read but covering of the face may make communication extra difficult due to their need to have visual contact. All preparedness and response plans must be inclusive of and accessible to women and children with disabilities. In case of quarantine, support services, personal assistance, food, clean water supply, physical and communication accessibility must be ensured to people with disabilities. Protective measures used with the general population should keep most persons with disabilities safe. Persons with severe or multiple disabilities are sometimes at higher risk and these situations must be considered. The needs of persons with intellectual disabilities who may not understand the reasons for, and significance of wearing masks, social distancing etc., must be considered in how messages are delivered.
Is rapid awareness raising, and training of personnel essential? Please explain why?
Yes, those personnel need to understand the unique and varied needs of persons with disabilities, and there is no one-size-fit-all program that will work on all people with diverse types of disabilities. People with disabilities, like other marginalized groups, can experience greater vulnerability to different forms of discrimination. We condemn all discrimination against people with disabilities on any basis and calls on all people and governments to respect people with disabilities as equal citizens. We are all in this together and must work together to defeat this pandemic. Inclusive rapid awareness-raising and training are essential for all personnel involved in the response. This must include reasonable accommodations and necessary support people with disabilities require. It is particularly important, therefore, that all individuals delivering messages to the public on the pandemic should be sensitized about the diverse needs of all disability groups.
Is it important for all preparedness and response plans to be inclusive of and accessible to people with disabilities?
Of course. There is no room for discriminations, all persons are affected by the Covid-19 regardless of their abilities/ disabilities. As with any disaster preparedness, the needs of persons with disabilities must be considered and addressed.