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PWDs sue government, ZBC over lack of accessible information on COVID-19

by Byron Adonis Mutingwende
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By Kumbirai Mafunda

Three organisations representing people who are visually impaired and Deaf have sued the government and the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) demanding to be provided with information on coronavirus in a format that is accessible to them.

Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League Of The
Blind argued that the rights of persons with disabilities have been infringed and continue to be infringed by government and ZBC during a public health emergency crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic as there is a lack of access to information in a format that is accessible to persons with disabilities, notably Deaf and Hard of Hearing people and the blind and partially sighted persons.

ZBC, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services Minister Hon. Monica Mutsvangwa, Health and Child Care Minister Hon. Obadiah Moyo and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Hon. Paul Mavima has been cited as respondents to the application by Centre for Disability and Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind.

As applicants, the Centre for Disability and Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind, represented by Denford Halimani and Doug Coltart of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, argued that given the state of public health emergency and the national lockdown, there is need for ZBC to have sign language as part of its programming to enable the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people be fully informed about the coronavirus pandemic and continuous changes effected on compliance with the national lockdown by the citizens and any subsequent measures taken by the government.

The Centre for Disability And Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind argued that there is a need for all other official communications by government ministries involved in the fight against coronavirus to be produced in formats which are accessible to persons with disabilities, including blind and partially sighted persons, through the use of Braille pamphlets, and audio versions, large print versions, and digital readable-text versions of official communications.

Failure to provide information on coronavirus in a format accessible to persons with disabilities, the applicants said, is not only a violation of the rights of those persons to equality, of access to information and other constitutional rights, but it also poses a grave danger to them, their members, and their beneficiaries who may be unknowingly exposed to the deadly disease as well as to the general the public who may also be infected with the disease by persons with disabilities if they are not given equal access to information about the disease and empowered to take necessary measures to prevent its spread.

Centre for Disability and Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind want the High Court to order ZBC to immediately provide sign language and/or captions in all its content on Zimbabwe Television (ZTV) pertaining to the coronavirus epidemic during and after the National Lockdown for the benefit of the deaf and hard of hearing people in Zimbabwe.

Hon. Mutsvangwa and Hon. Moyo, the applicants said, should immediately cause the production of pamphlets with information about coronavirus in Braille and to distribute the same information to visually impaired persons throughout Zimbabwe and ensure that all written information related to coronavirus provided by the government is also made available in formats accessible to visually impaired and partially sighted persons, such as audio versions, large text, and/or readable digital text, and distributed to the intended beneficiaries.

Hon. Moyo, the applicants said, should also ensure that the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare’s coronavirus hotlines and centres are staffed with persons who are equipped to deal with the unique needs of persons with disabilities while Hon. Mavima must facilitate that Hon. Mutsvangwa and Hon. Moyo ensures that Braille materials and any other coronavirus-related materials intended for persons with disabilities are delivered to the intended recipients.

Hon. Mutsvangwa, the Centre for Disability and Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind said, must immediately issue a statement urging private entities, including mass media and hospitals, to ensure that any services they provide to the public relating to coronavirus including information, testing and treatment are accessible to persons with disabilities.

The application will be heard and determined on Monday 20 April 2020 by High Court Judge Justice Joseph Mafusire.

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