UGANDA: The blind decry inequity in enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines

UNAB chairman Kinubi Francis (extreme left) with association members in Kampala on Thursday; Photo by Pat-Robert

Persons with visual impairment have decried the inequity that has been demonstrated by authorities in Uganda during the development and enforcement of COVID-19 prevention guidelines saying government was inconsiderate.

The Chairman Uganda National Association of the Blind (UNAB), Mr. Kinubi Francis made the remarks during an event to commemorate International White Cane safety Day held in Kampala on Thursday. The day is commemorated globally on 15th October, to raise awareness on the importance of the white cane to persons with visual impairment; an essential tool that gives them the ability to achieve a full and independent life.

Mr. Kinubi said state parties must not forget their obligation enshrined in several UN conventions on rights of persons with disabilities quoting Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which requires countries to identify, eliminate obstacles and barriers and ensure that PWDs access their environment, transportation and other facilities easily and safely.

The conventions Mr. Kinubi said requires that PWDs must be able to live independently for them to be included positively in the communities where they live.

Kinubi cited a case of learning materials that were issued to children to facilitate continuity of study during the lockdown which were not changed into accessible formats for the blind and the deaf as stated in the CRPD.

“While teaching by radio a child is expected to listen and take notes, those with visual impairment had no writing equipment at home because such equipment is a school property and is therefore left at school. How could those children be expected to write?” he said.

He expressed fear that finalists with visual and hearing impairment who resumed studies today may not be able to pass end-of-year exams since government stated that exams will be set basing on what is being taught during the lockdown.

He also queried if Kampala City and other cities in Uganda are safe for persons with visual impairment as enshrined in Goal 11 of SDGs which requires countries to eliminate challenges experienced by blind users of the white cane while moving to and from work in cities where they live.

UNAB also challenged the implementation of curfew orders which did not provide special consideration of PWDs citing a case of security agents blocking boda-boda riders at roadblocks yet boda-boda transport was the most-helpful means for PWDs during the lockdown.

UNAB appealed to government to ensure that all government interventions against COVID-19 to address the needs of people with visual impairment for inclusivity.

The white cane is a symbol used by the blind to demonstrate their independent living through mobility and orientation skills which enables the bearer of the cane to safely cross the streets to go to work for their livelihood. It also helps them to identify obstacles along the way, support one to ascend and descend stairs among other reasons.

The cane also enables the public and other road users to appreciate and understand that the bearer is blind and therefore needs help to either reach his/her destination safely. UNAB appealed to people with visual impairment to understand the value of having and using the white cane effectively, loving and respecting it for their safety.

The state minister for the PWDs and the Elderly, Hon Sarah Kanyike who was the chief guest at the event said the concerns raised are genuine and pledged to do everything in her means to address them.

Kanyike noted that the Ministry of Labour, Gender and Social Development has rolled out the National Special Grant from which PWDs will directly benefit as a way to improve their livelihoods. She also appealed to all PWDs to participate in all empowerment programs under government because they are entitled to such like any other citizen.

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