Inclusivity: deaf people and minority groups during Covid-19 in Zimbabwe

Involved alumni:

The challenge that the project addresses

The unique challenges that the deaf community is facing in southern Africa raises more questions than answers. The platforms being used to communicate Covid-19 information are not accessible to persons with disability. Efforts to make sure information reaches this community are still minimal across the region. Deaf people are exposed to serious risk because information on Covid-19 is not being presented in accessible formats to them. In the wave of Covid-19 pandemic, people who are deaf and hearing impaired have not been given enough information and education on how the disease is spread, how it is prevented and related issues. Thus, many such people do not practice social distancing. An inclusive lens for people with disability and minority groups is vital as they are highly vulnerable. Information need to be disseminated in accessible formats such as Zimbabwe Sign language, South African Sign Language, Zambian Sign Language etc. and consideration of these persons in resource allocation as well as priority setting. Failure to do so is a clear breach of Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of people with Disabilities, which says that “member states must provide equal access to (among other things) information to enable them to “participate fully in all aspects of life”. The national news broadcasting platforms on coverage is not reaching the deaf community because majority cannot afford to own a TV set and have limited access to internet and electricity. The newspaper article l published with Newsday newspaper in Zimbabwe entitled, “Don’t forget the deaf: Covid-19” advises the government and different institutions on how to disseminate information about Covid-19 to the deaf community.

What is your project doing to respond to this challenge?

As a sign language linguist, interpreter, advocate for linguistic rights of minority languages groups and a PhD candidate studying Sign language, l am incorporating associations of deaf people and organisations of persons with disabilities in their plans to make public health information fully accessible to people with disabilities. My project is mainly targeting the deaf community in Zimbabwe. In this lockdown era, l am addressing the Covid-19 pandemic by making some Zimbabwe Sign Language videos with captions in a bid to disseminate Covid-19 information to the deaf. The project is also helping deaf people with face mask, gloves, food and virtual learning classes for deaf students preparing for ordinary level exams in November this year. Most of the people who are deaf and the hearing impaired in Zimbabwe survive on informal jobs such as vending. In Harare and other towns, persons with disabilities sell airtime, sweets, maize etc. The current lockdown has left them without any source of livelihood and in many cases, left out of any program assisting vulnerable people with cash and food handouts. Online interviews that l have carried out with some of the deaf people shows that they do not have enough food stocks to last the period of lockdown as most of them are in the informal sector and rely on selling on the streets.
It is against this backdrop, that l was prompted to have a few conversations with a few friends who advocate for deaf rights in Zimbabwe. l motivated some of my colleagues to assist the deaf community in kind or cash. The overarching aim was to tap into the best of the Zimbabwe spirit and be a window of hope amidst the gloom and doom. With Miss Deaf Pride Zimbabwe Trust, l had been providing care packages during the Covid-19 crisis, which included communication cards deaf people can use at the supermarket and the hospital. These cards say “l have a hearing loss and here is the best way to communicate with me”, whether Zimbabwe Sign Language or by text or by writing it down. It is more difficult for deaf people to access essential services. The deaf people who relied on one to one support had been alone without help or ability to communicate properly during the lockdown. Those visits have stopped during the level 4 lockdown period, so there was limited contact especially from family and friends who were not allowed to visit and support their loved ones.
An open and just society in Zimbabwe is only possible if the linguistic and health rights of the deaf people are prioritized. More so, it is indeed of paramount importance for both the government of Zimbabwe and the broader society in general to note that a true fight against Covid-19 cannot be successful if people who are deaf and hard of hearing are relegated to the periphery.

Describe the project's impact

•Making the disabled/less privileged feel important by being considered in terms of their peculiar needs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
•Equitable distribution of information about Covid-19 and resources to the hearing and deaf people in Zimbabwe.
•Deaf people exercise their linguistic rights as citizens of Zimbabwe.
•Dissemination of Covid-19 information in formats accessible to the deaf community.
•Sign language updates on the continual threats of Covid-19 on social media and news platforms.
•Sign language interpretive services in health care units and centers.
•Media houses especially on Covid-19 must have communication available to all users of sign language.
•Resource mobilization of food handouts to assist the deaf community in Zimbabwe.
•Education for the deaf students through online virtual learning, and reduction of Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe through information dissemination to minority and disabled communities in Zimbabwe.
•Open and just society where equality, fraternity and liberty will be the norm.