People with disabilities (PWD) have vulnerabilities and needs that require specific attention under normal circumstances. In emergencies such the COVID – 19 (Corona Virus) pandemic, their vulnerabilities are more glaring and the need to ensure the promotion and protection of their rights becomes more pressing.

It is important to note that PWD are at greater risk of contracting Corona Virus due to their need for touch or physical contact to communicate and interact with the world around them. This is especially true for people on wheelchairs, the blind and partially sighted; which makes following the prescribed hygiene protocols a challenge to adhere to. Maintaining the social distance required to curb the spread to Corona Virus is also a challenge as some of them require intimate assistance from family members and care givers.

Where the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) advises social distancing, frequent washing of hands or sanitizing and is disseminating information on an array of precautionary measures, available services and status of the outbreak; there is need to acknowledge that access to information is a barrier to acquiring this vital life- saving information. Over the last couple of weeks, posters have been put up detailing the MoHW protocols; none of which have been in braille or large print to ensure that blind and partially sighted people can also read and understand for themselves. This is also true of the permits that can and may be acquired by the public to access essential services including health facilities and social services.

The deaf community has also found itself isolated and with limited access to information. Through the BONELA Legal Aid Programme, we have been made aware that sign language interpretation provided on state media cannot be understood by the deaf community. Information is therefore not reaching the marginalized and vulnerable members of our community.

BONELA recognizes that it is imperative that all activity around Corona Virus is inclusive in nature, does not deepen marginalization or increase vulnerability. BONELA therefore strongly urges the Government of Botswana that as it takes steps to prevent and curb the spread of Corona Virus, should ensure that all members of society, particularly PWD have:

  • Access to adequate hygiene commodities such as sanitisers to ensure that PWD, their families and care givers are also able to adequately follow the requisite protocols as determined by the MoHW. PWD predominantly live on Government aid and it must be understood, given the limitations of the allocated funds, that they need additional assistance procuring health and hygiene commodities.
  • Equal access to information. There is need to ensure appropriate sign language interpretation of all information shared with the public including on state media. Documents which have been designed to ensure access to services for the public during the period of extreme social distancing should be designed in such a way that PWD are able to engage with them all the while retaining their dignity and confidentiality.

For more information, contact BONELA on: +267 393 2516 or Tebogo Gareitsanye at tebogog@bonela.org and follow BONELA on Twitter @bonelaethics and like our Facebook Page BONELA