The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a general approach regardless of the various categories of our population. The PWDS make up 26.5% of the general population (2014) and the blind 12.4% of the 26.5% PWDs who need specific interventions during this COVID-19 era. I have seen blind people suffering the wrath of the curfew enforcement with the enforcement agencies not considering their unique situations. Further, the educational messages making rounds on the media do not take care of the deaf as they have no sign-language interpreter and this therefore means that about are missing out on the message from the Ministry of Health.
Secondly, I have seen that masks are now being distributed and most of them are one size fits all with elastics to which one will attach to their ears. How about those without ears, how will they use the general masks. A simple string mask will be befitting of this category, but has the Ministry thought about his?
Further, those who need sign language interpretation benefit from lip reading, so how will this be enabled with the general mask which covers the mouth? It is still possible to make masks that target a certain category of persons and this can be done in collaboration with the affected persons. A simple transparent sheet in a mask can solve this problem and I have seen someone in Kamuli district produce them.
Thirdly, how are the Children with Disability learning during COVID-19? The ministry recently produced educational materials, did they take care of the blind children? The government is also planning to provide learning through radios and Tvs, is it considering options for the blind and deaf? When everyone else is home schooling, the blind are being left out yet we continue to sing the “leave no one behind” slogan. It is important that even as we plan on the new normals of how to live with COVID-19, we need not to forget that PWDs are part of our population who have special needs and therefore specific interventions need to be designed for them.
Fourthly, the Electoral Commission is planning to conduct scientific elections, is it also planning for the PWDS especially those that need guides, sign language interpreters at the polling stations?
I therefore call upon the Government and its agencies and private entities to ensure they mainstream PWD issues in their COVID-19 intervention plans otherwise we shallbe faced with another pandemic of gross discrimination of this category of our population.
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