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3000 Blind and Partially Sighted persons receive Braille COVID-19 Key Messages

Gaborone, BOTSWANA- Even under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities face discrimination and exclusion from services and decision-making. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, and information on how to take care of ourselves is shared in various platforms, persons with disabilities face more barriers to accessing the information and services as they are often overlooked in emergency response.

“Being blind or partially sighted is already a challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse for us. Most COVID-19 messages were shared through the TV, radio, posters and social media and people forgot that there are other groups who access messages in a  special way, people who do not have access to social media,”explains Tshepo Raditladi, an advocate for the partially sighted and blind people working for Botswana Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted.

Mr. Raditladi highlights due to this lack of factual and timely information in platforms suited for the blind, most of them received inaccurate messages and information from those they relied on, mostly family members and caretakers, which proved to be very dangerous as they ended up not following COVID-19 preventative measures as stipulated.

“I must also emphasize that as the blind community, it is quite a challenge for us to adhere to some of the measures put in place such as social distancing and not touching surfaces because we use a sense of touch to navigate our environment and 60 % of our functioning has to be done with someone who is sighted,”he adds.

Tshepo further underscored that for those in schools, hand washing protocols require that they monitor the queue and wait their turn, hence they need to be sufficiently close to feel the next person or object, therefore social distancing becomes near impossible.

Information about COVID-19, infection control efforts and public health measures must be accessible to all, including people with disabilities, therefore UNFPA Botswana supported the Botswana Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted (BABPS) to develop and distribute braille booklets among people with visual impairments. According to Mr. Raditladi, the braille booklets include messages on prevention and control measures from credible sources such the government, World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

The books are in Grade 1 and Grade 2 braille as well as Setswana braille and have been distributed to nine (9) organizations which work with people with visual impairment such as Lephoi Centre for the Blind, Central Association of the Blind and Disabed, Library Services for Persons with Disability, Pudulogong Brigade for the Blind, Mochudi Resource for the Blind, Lentswe Community Junior School and Molefi Senior School which have special units for the blind, and others.

The initiative has been hailed by the beneficiaries, who say the message booklets are critical to the fight against COVID-19.

One of the beneficiaries, Mr. Batati aged 39 acknowledges that it is the first time, seven months into the pandemic, to get COVID-19 messaging in a braille format. All along he has been depending on family members for information as he does not own a television set or radio.

 

“ I feel very empowered that I can now read messages for myself. These booklets have become very resourceful and I can now proudly share information with others,” Batati said.

UNFPA supported this initiative to help equip the visually impaired with the necessary information to help them take care of themselves amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Botswana Demographic Survey Report 2017, there are 90 945 individuals with a disability in Botswana and sight/visual impairment accounts for the highest proportion of disabilities at 49.4% or about 45,000 people.

Globally, 1 in 7 people are living with a disability – roughly 1 billion people.  Yet their needs are too often overlooked.

 

                                                                                                                                                                         ~ Priscilla Rabasimane