*By Bernard Otieno
Women with hearing and intellectual disabilities face challenging moments in accessing the right information to stay safe from COVID-19 in Tanzania. Although, the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 guarantees the right to access information under Article 18 (d)—which requires that every person has a right to be informed at all times of different essential occasions of life and activities of the public and also of issues of importance to the society. Regrettably, this requirement of the Constitution may not be effective in protecting women (and all other citizens) with hearing and intellectual disabilities amid the escalation of COVID-19 in Tanzania.
The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children has been responsible for providing formal information and updates of the trend and development of COVID-19 in the country. While the Constitution requires that everyone has the right to receive information regarding various important occasions in the society—the Ministry has not provided means of communication that is friendly to women (and other people) with hearing and intellectual disabilities. The information circulated through social and mass media—by word of mouth and in a signed document—makes it difficult for women with hearing and intellectual disabilities to consume. To date, no policy or guidelines have been issued to make information accessible to women with hearing and intellectual disabilities.
Likewise, language sign interpreters are not publicly seen providing assistance to women with hearing impairments—when formal reports are being issued regarding the situation of COVID-19. Lack of access to right of information, exposes women with hearing and intellectual disabilities as primary vulnerable persons to contract COVID-19 because it is difficult for them to access the right information that would help them take precautionary or preventive measures against COVID-19.
The government should provide means where women with hearing and intellectual disabilities can easily access information and updates regarding the development and prevention measures of COVID-19. Section 38(1) (a&b) and (3) of the Persons with Disabilities Act of 2010 requires any public body communicating with one or more persons to ensure that if the communication is an oral one, and the person with disability has a hearing impairment—the contents of the communication should be communicated in a form that is accessible to the person concerned. Similarly, the head of any public body should ensure that, information published by the body, which contains information relevant to persons with intellectual disabilities, is in a clear language, legible and easily understood by such persons.
With this requirement of the law, the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children should change its reporting system—to ensure that the information shared with the entire public is also accessible to women with hearing and intellectual disabilities. Failing to do so, not only infringes their fundamental and legal right to access information, but also puts this group of vulnerable citizens at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 easily. The nation has a duty to protect all citizens, and should take prompt measures to protect women with hearing and intellectual disabilities against COVID-19.
* Bernard Otieno is lawyer from Tanzania and an Open Society Foundations Disability Rights Fellow at the American University Washington College of Law.
The views expressed in this entry belong solely to the author.