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April 18, 2003

NAC rapped for ignoring the disabled

From: Harare Herald, Zimbabwe - Apr 18, 2003

By Sifelani Tsiko recently in Nyanga
REPRESENTATIVES of the visually and hearing impaired groupings have rapped the National Aids Council (NAC) for not providing disabled people with HIV/Aids awareness information.

"Visually impaired people are either ill-informed or misinformed because they have no access to HIV/Aids material written in braille," said Mrs Roseweter Mudarikwa of the Zimbabwe Association of the Visually Handicapped.

She said NAC was not doing enough to print awareness materials in braille or providing tapes to assist the blind get messages about the dangers of HIV and Aids.

"We have no access to HIV and Aids information," she said. "No literature is available in accessible formats. We are invisible in NAC campaigns."

The 53-member National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (Nascoh) held a one-day workshop in Nyanga this week to raise awareness among journalists about the plight of disabled people in accessing information.

"Very few people are aware of female condoms, because there is no braille label to go with it," said Mrs Mudarikwa.

"The actual challenge is how do you use it without braille. We don't discuss sex practices in public. How do you break this to prevent the visually impaired from contracting the pandemic."

Mrs Sithembeni Manduna, a member of the National Disability Board, said NAC had in all its programmes excluded the concerns of people with hearing impairments.

"I've never heard of a hearing impaired person being involved in its structures," she said.

"This shows us that they treat hearing impaired people as being Aids proof. They have no opportunity to be aware of these programmes."

She said there was urgent need for NAC to embrace the needs of all people with disabilities through the use of sign language and other printed signs to prevent the spread of Aids among them.

"Do we deserve to be infected with Aids?" she asked. "Those with hearing impairments must be included in NAC structures from the village up to the national level."

She said deaf women and children are the most vulnerable and NAC should set up mechanisms to help raise awareness on the dangers of Aids.

"They don't have any programmes for us," she said. "They forget us."

Mrs Manduna said that very few deaf people were having access to HIV and Aids testing centres, anti-retroviral drugs and information about the pandemic due to marginalisation.

The media was not spared either.

Mrs Mudarikwa accused the media of failing to come up with print material in braille to help the blind access information.

"The media should not close their eyes and ears to the issues affecting the lives of the visually impaired people.

"Nobody attempts to write in braille. We are praying for the day when we will have The Herald in braille."

She had the participants in stitches when she said: "My statement is in braille. Sorry, I'm being arrogant. I have not typed copies of my presentation.

"The visually impaired are people first and anything later," she said. "They need to be loved.

"It's important to design programmes were everyone is included. I don't know whether it is right to have programmes for all other people and leave the visually impaired persons."

Mrs Manduna also expressed concern at the use of derogatory words by the media, which ridiculed disabled people.

"I beg you not to use words such as dumb, chimumumu, blind," she said. "We are human beings, too."

She said journalists should be taught sign language to enable them to interview people with hearing impairments.

She challenged the ZBC to engage interpreters in all its news sections and consider sign language drama to bring the aspirations of people with hearing impairments on board.

Mrs Manduna said teenagers who are deaf are at risk of contracting Aids because of lack of access to information.

"Little knowledge is dangerous," she said. "Boys and girls with hearing impairments are sexually active and often engage in unprotected sex due to lack of information.

"They think condoms will reduce the sexual pleasure."

Nascoh chairman and former television personality Mr Godfrey Majonga urged journalists to continue covering issues affecting disabled people.

He said this would help highlight discrepancies in laws and assist the disabled to lobby or fight for their rights.

"Many are left out, closed in their homes and in rural ones," he said.

"We have to find ways of reaching people like the deaf who have no access to radio and television." He said the rising cost of newspapers has put them beyond of reach of disabled people.

"We have to find ways of reaching out to them."

Journalists and participants at the workshop discussed issues related to access of information, rights of disabled people and the use of disability friendly vocabulary.

© Copyright of Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited 2001.