HIGH Court Judge Justice Joseph Mafusire has ordered the state-run public broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and government to immediately end the violation of rights of some Deaf, blind and visually impaired people by providing them with information on the coronavirus epidemic in a format which is accessible to them.
Justice Mafusire granted the order on Monday 20 April 2020 after he was petitioned by three organisations namely Centre for Disability and Development Trust, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind representing people who are visually impaired and Deaf, who sued government and the state-run ZBC demanding to be provided with information on coronavirus in a format which is accessible to them.
In the application filed by Denford Halimani and Doug Coltart of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Centre for Disability and Development Trust, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League Of The Blind argued that given the state of public health emergency and the national lockdown, there is need for ZBC to have sign language as part of its programming to enable the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to be fully informed about the coronavirus pandemic and continuous changes effected on compliance with the national lockdown by the citizens and any subsequent measures taken by government.
The rights of persons with disabilities, Centre for Disability and Development Trust, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League Of The Blind argued, had been infringed by government and ZBC during a public health emergency crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic as there was a lack of access to information in a format that is accessible to persons with disabilities, notably Deaf and Hard of Hearing people and the blind and partially sighted persons.
In his ruling, Justice Mafusire ordered ZBC to provide subtitles/captions such as a word for word transcription of the dialogue) for all pre-recorded programmes and to provide sign language interpretation for all main bulletins such as lunch time news, 8PM news and 11 PM on weekdays.
ZBC, Justice Mafusire ruled, should allow Deaf Zimbabwe Trust to second trained sign language interpreter(s) to the state-run broadcaster to provide additional sign language interpretation beyond ZBC’s existing capacity.
The High Court Judge also ordered ZBC to provide sign language interpretation for all live announcements subject to the state-run broadcaster receiving sufficient notice and for ZBC to progressively increase its provision of sign language interpretation for all live programming including news bulletins.
Justice Mafusire also ordered Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Hon. Monica Mutsvangwa, Health and Child Care Minister Hon. Obadiah Moyo and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Hon. Paul Mavima, who were cited as respondents to the application, to immediately cause the production of pamphlets in Braille and large text with information about coronavirus including information about the disease itself, how to prevent contracting it, how and where to access healthcare facilities and emergency contact details.
Mutsvangwa, Moyo and Mavima, the Judge said, should distribute the information on coronavirus to visually impaired persons throughout Zimbabwe including by providing it to Centre for Disability and Development Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind and any other organisations representing the interests of visually impaired and blind persons registered in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’s database and providing the same at all health care centres.
Mutsvangwa, Moyo and Mavima were ordered to immediately ensure that all written information related to coronavirus provided by government, including daily updates, is also made available in formats accessible to blind and partially sighted persons, including audio recordings of the content distributable by WhatsApp, and/or readable digital text, and distributed to the blind and visually impaired persons including by providing it to Centre for Disability and Development Trust and Zimbabwe National League of the Blind and organisations representing the interests of blind and visually impaired persons registered with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare’s database.
Moyo, the Health and Child Care Minister, was ordered to ensure that his ministry’s coronavirus hotlines and centres are staffed with persons who are equipped to deal with the unique needs of persons with disabilities including how and where they can receive information about coronavirus in a format accessible to them.
Mutsvangwa was ordered to immediately issue a statement urging private entities, including mass media and hospitals, to ensure that any services they provide to the public relating to coronavirus are accessible to persons with disabilities including, but not limited to, urging all private healthcare facilities to provide accessible information and all news outlets to disseminate information about how and where persons with disabilities can access information, testing and treatment for coronavirus.
The Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister was also ordered to give ZBC sufficient notice of any intended announcements by government pertaining to coronavirus.
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