BY JOY OFASIA
THE coronavirus crisis has clearly shown the existing inequalities experienced by people living with disabilities in societies in the Solomon Islands especially in ensuring access to life-saving information in responding to the pandemic.
As the government continues to regulate new laws to manage the pandemic from entering the shores of the country amid fears of the deadly corona-virus, People with Disability Solomon Islands office (PWDSI), Climate Change Officer Melvina Voua have said lack of access to life-saving information puts persons with disabilities at risk.
Melvina Voua, a young woman living with a disability from the Guadalcanal province. Her focal role as a climate change officer at the PWDSI office in Honiara is to liaise with the Pacific Disability Forum in Fiji. She’s responsible to look after the local projects and organize capacity training for resource team members to carry out a survey on the impacts of climate change to people with disabilities in the country.
“For people with disabilities in Honiara and in the various provinces in the country, which include people with vision, mobility, and hearing disabilities, the general challenges that come with the pandemic are obviously due to the various communication barriers they face, in particular in accessing key information on COVID-19 precautions, preparedness and response actions,” she told Solomon Women.
Melvina said due to the global developing pandemic, information is essential for people to make decisions about how to protect themselves and how to access necessities and services during quarantine and self-isolation.
She acknowledged the international donor partners, stakeholders, and the governments at all levels especially the Ministry of Health for providing accurate, accessible, and timely information about the disease, prevention methods, and services.
“During the State of Public Emergency in Honiara, locals with a disability and special needs have acquired COVI-19 lifesaving and precautionary information through the Ministry of Health and Medical services awareness programs on radios, public posters, newspapers and through an exchange of information with respective friends and families at home,” Melvina said.
Melvina highlighted that the government should also consider the specific needs of people with disabilities when developing prevention strategies. For example, additional handwashing kits and information should be delivered for people with disabilities who are not able to wash their hands frequently or on their own or lack access to sufficient water for hygiene.
She said during the declared Public State of Emergency, People Living with Disability in Honiara and neighboring provinces in the country have received inadequate COVID-19 supplies of handwashing equipment or kits such as washing containers with soaps.
The People with Disability Solomon Islands office (PWDSI), Climate Change Officer said that not all people with disabilities received this basic handwashing equipment or kits.
“There are many people living with disabilities who have not been able to access the supplies of handwashing equipment,” Melvina said.
“Little has been done to provide people with disabilities with the guidance and support needed to protect them during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even though many of them are part of the high-risk group.
“People with disabilities have different accessibility needs and it is vital that their involvement and access to health services and supplies of handwashing equipment are accommodated,” Melvina added.
Several international survey reports have indicated that to ensure that people with disabilities are not deprived of lifesaving information, communication strategies should include qualified sign language interpretation for televised announcements, websites that are accessible to people with different disabilities, and telephone-based services that have text capabilities for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Communications should use plain language to maximize understanding.