- April 16, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series.

Names have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.

“At the beginning, there was little information on COVID 19 in a way that I could understand. I just saw that people are not allowed to move around but because there was no sign language interpretation and I could not understand why I could not go out “

This is the story of a 22 year old man, Takudzwa, who is deaf and struggling to obtain information during the lock down. In Zimbabwe, the country has declared a 21 day lock down and there are very few according to government statistics (23 cases up until now). There have also not been any recorded cases of persons with disabilities who have contracted the virus. One of the major concerns is that Zimbabwe has one national television station and they have not been providing information in accessible formats for the deaf and those with intellectual disabilities which is simplified.

“Now I see that there is more sign language on TV. I am told that Deaf Zimbabwe Trust has put in an urgent high court application to demand the use of sign language.” 

Three organisations representing persons with deaf and visual impairments (Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League Of The Blind) have sued government Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to demand accessible formats on all COVID-19 updates, adverts and alerts as well as national news sessions. They also have 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, through the use of Braille pamphlets, and audio versions, large print versions, and digital readable-text versions of official communications.

Deaf Zimbabwe Trust more concretely are working to link Deaf community with organizations that are providing food aid during the lock down. They are also providing information on COVID-19 with captions and sign language to the deaf community using social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and bulk smses.

There was only a two days’ notice before the lock down was imposed by the government. “This was a short time”, says Takudzwa. There is also a concern that as a result of the lack of reliable data on persons with disabilities, most persons with disabilities are food insecure as their livelihoods are informal and thus affected by the lock down. In this way, COVID 19 has become a food security issue yet the measures to address this are not adequate. 

Takudzwa explains that most people who are deaf, like him, sell sweets and small things. The money they make selling is not enough to buy food so many of my deaf colleagues are hungry, and especially now that they are unable to leave their homes. “The government has registered some people to receive help but most people who are Deaf do not hear the information. They do not know the process. So the food available is not a lot so there is pressure for food.”  

The government is providing some support to people with disabilities but Zimbabwe’s economy is in crisis and this means that there are limited financial resources. There is also a lack of information regarding the measures to avoid food shortages, and ensuring that people with disabilities will receive enough food.