Needs of PWDs forgotten in pandemic period

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta.

John Obiero Ogone 

A blind man engaged me in a tense moment within hours of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s national address on July 6, 2020.

“I hear excitement in everyone, what did he say about Corona?” the man asked. 

“The President has said many things … but now people in Nairobi will be happy to travel home,” I answered. “Oooh,” he said in response, and did not utter a word more. 

A quick look at him left me with no doubt the man was struggling with many things.

He had no mask on; would obviously find it difficult determining the physical distance to be observed; and would clearly need assistance to access sanitation facilities.

Then my mind drifted away to the plight of persons living with disabilities (PWDs) during the pandemic period.

 Survival and life support systems for PWDs have been a concern the world over.

This is because PWDs have to overcome or live with setbacks occasioned by physical, mental, aural, intellectual, speech or visual barriers that limit their participation in public or private lives. Their situation couldn’t be worse in this pandemic period. 

Though authorities have rolled out prevention, response and mitigation strategies in order to protect vulnerable populations, little has been done on the plight of PWDs. 

However, success with containing the pandemic means authorities have to ensure messages about compliance with strict preventive measures against the virus are efficiently conveyed to the public.

Until this moment, information regarding Covid-19 is designed and conveyed in formats that are unavailable to most PWDs. 

For instance, radio campaigns exclude the deaf; TV broadcasts are inaccessible to the deaf-blind, billboard, poster or flier messages do not reach the blind; and no messages will reach the mentally or intellectually challenged if each message piece or medium is not carefully taken into consideration.

For these reasons, even homeschooling remains a big challenge for pupil PWDs. 

 Beyond the message are setbacks suffered by PWDs associated with preventive measures against Covid-19.

Cessation of movement, lockdown, curfew, border closures, quarantine, use of masks, enforcement of physical distance, fumigation of public spaces and handwashing pose a variety of challenges to different categories of disability.

 For instance, some PWDs use hands to move while others need close support from an assistant to get around.

When authorities announce and enforce lockdown measures, most PWD families become more devastated than a majority of us. 

 Glaring lack of preparedness in protecting PWD lives and livelihoods has especially been exposed on the part of authorities.

Unlike people without disabilities, PWDs face serious challenges in enactment of basic protection measures against Covid-19.

With poor access to free personal protective equipment such as masks, sanitisers or handwashing facilities, PWDs remain the forgotten community in our midst.

Indeed basic measures such as observance of physical distance becomes difficult for PWDs who rely on close personal support. 

 To turn around this unfortunate situation, the government out to carry out a needs assessment survey to formulate and implement proper protection measures for those living with disabilities in the face of Covid-19.

The measures should ensure they access mainstream services and specialist needs to meet their health, sanitation, information and subsistence. 

Specific activities in support of PWDs could include provision and maintenance of PPEs and facilities, creation of friendly spaces in hospitals or at quarantine facilities, ensuring public health information is available in accessible easy to understand formats, and ensuring PWD enterprises are given priority in recovery programmes. 

—The writer is a senior lecturer, department of Linguistics and Literature, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Scienece and Technology

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