The challenges wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic has not spared people living with visual disabilities.
For others with a visual impairment, the coronavirus crisis has been a time of anxiety and loneliness, as they continue to stay at home.
The health ministry recommends that people practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly with water and soap for at least 20 seconds to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
However, this might be an impossible task for those who are living with visual impairment.
However, persons with disabilities feel it is vital that blind and low-vision Namibians receive the same opportunities and tools to participate in ending this public-health threat as others do.
Centres for Disease and Prevention (CDC) classified disability groups who might be at increased risk of becoming infected or having unrecognised illness.
Those listed include people
who have limited mobility or who cannot avoid coming into close contact with others who may be infected, such as direct support providers and family members.
The other category is people who have trouble understanding information or practising
preventive measures, such as hand washing and social distancing.
One such living testimony is a visually impaired graduate who is still job hunting, Josua Amukwaya.
In terms of information dissemination, he says persons with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairment, feel left out.
He argued that many people with visual impairment reside in rural areas where they do not get newspapers in the accessible format. Amukwaya said most people with visual impairment are still vaccine hesitant as a result of a lack of sufficient information. He said Braille material is not available in the rural areas.
Amukwaya argues that most of them do not have smartphones and do not know how to use assistive devices in order to access information. “The only source of information they get is from the national broadcasting radio stations, which the ministry of health use to share information. However, this information at times is not enough for someone to make informed decisions. For instance, the ministry of health does not give adequate information on the consequences of taking the vaccine but it only comes out to tell people to take the vaccine,” he maintained.
He added that those in the urban areas are also faced with challenges due to the conspiracy theories
and false information circulating on social media.
This, he argues, confuses them as to which vaccine to go for.
According to him, they are also at a greater risk of contracting the virus because most of those totally blind have to rely on someone who guides them when they go to hospitals or shops.
“Thus, the best option to protect themselves is to remain indoors
and avoid unnecessary
movements,” said Amukwaya.
Johannes Tjitumba, also with visual impairment said the pandemic affected everyone. However, he emphasised persons with disabilities are more affected.
“I am a visually impaired, and whenever I have to go to town for shopping, I go through a lot of hands to be assisted. Sometimes, the person who should guide you has other responsibilities. You can’t just sideline his or her daily duties to guide you and take you wherever you go,” he said. Tjitumba complained that persons with disabilities lack credible information regarding the deadly Covid-19 and the vaccination process. “This fake information is scaring people. Sometimes, the visually impaired don’t have access to information. They deserve to have the right information, which they can read themselves or their guardians to guide them. It’s important that government distribute information equally to reach persons with disabilities,” he reacted. Disability affairs deputy minister, Alexia Ncube stressed persons
with disability, like any other Namibian citizen, are impacted by Covid-19.
“However, the level of impact is more for persons with disability based on the social, physical and human rights barriers which has been long in existence, which in many instances caused exclusion for persons with disability in accessing services.” Ncube said in assisting persons with disability, the government tried very hard to ensure that information provided by government and institutions both to prevent infection and to know how to act in case of illness was in accessible formats, including sign language, video captioning, this was more on TV as most coverage was done with sign language services.
She admitted the challenge only remained with print information in Braille. “However, I must note that with our partners, through the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), we managed to print Covid-19 IEC materials in Braille and large fonts to include persons with disabilities in the Covid-19 prevention and treatment campaigns,” she said. However, she noted these materials were distributed only in few regions, including Erongo, Khomas and Kavango, respectively.
She mentioned that government did not come up with a specific programme. Nevertheless, exiting interventions and responses were aimed to also benefit persons with disabilities such as masks distribution.