Q+A with Barbra Nyangairi, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust

Updated: October 2020
Headshot photo of Barbra Nyangairi

Barbra Nyangairi is the Executive Director of the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) and has played a leading role in advocating for the inclusion of hard-of-hearing persons during the COVID-19 pandemic. DZT is an organization that advocates for the promotion, protection and realization of the rights of persons who are Deaf and hard of hearing. In its six years of existence, DZT has contributed to policy reform in education, provision of Sign Language on ZBC, increased awareness of the Deaf community in Zimbabwe, the participation of persons with disabilities in elections and other civic processes as well as improved access to health services by Deaf people through Sign Language training of service providers.


1. What kinds of barriers have Deaf Zimbabweans been facing as a result of COVID-19?


Deaf people in Zimbabwe are facing a number of barriers as a result of COVID-19. As a result of the lockdown restrictions which have a bearing on the enjoyment of human rights, there are fundamental rights that have not been respected and these include – The rights to health as restrictions have resulted in closing out of health care centers to COVID clinics and the strike action by doctors and nurses have not helped.   The right to education has been violated as the Government of Zimbabwe has put in place alternative education classes using radio and Deaf learners cannot access these classes. The livelihoods of the Deaf community have been severely affected as the majority of them are engaged in petty vending as they have not had the same access to education as non-Deaf counterparts. While the livelihoods have been affected, the safety net provided by the state is not inclusive resulting in increased deprivation for the Deaf community.


2. How has Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) been advocating for inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic?


  • DZT has been advocating for increased access to information during COVID-19 to ensure that persons who are Deaf and hard of hearing have access to information this was done using strategic litigation as dialogue has not worked
  • DZT has been engaging through the Forum for Disability Education in Zimbabwe (FODEZ) which DZT convened and has 12 members for the inclusion of children with disabilities in alternative education provisions that the Government of Zimbabwe is providing. Currently, alternative education initiatives include radio lessons that Deaf children are not able to partake of.   
  • Citizen awareness of the issues affecting persons with disabilities using radio and television programs. 
  • DZT has used Parliamentary engagement to ensure that members of parliament are aware of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities and the potential solutions to these challenges through building a culture of inclusion.


3. In May, DZT won a court case on access to information. Would you be able to share any additional information about the case?


After 2 years of engaging with the national television broadcaster, the  Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation which is the only television station in Zimbabwe on the provision of sign language, captions for the Deaf community,  the emergence of COVID-19 and the continued violation of the right to information had life and death consequences.  Strategic litigation was the only after dialogue had not worked. Zimbabwe‘s television station works on an analog system and has not digitalized to ensure the provision of closed captions. This means that captions and sign language have to be provided. The right to information is provided for in the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe is one of the few countries that have legal recognition of Sign language yet this would remain on paper and not be enjoyed by the Deaf community.


We collaborated with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights which provided legal support and partnered with other organizations to file the lawsuit.   


4. Before this case, were you aware of any similar cases elsewhere in the region?


In the region, I have not heard of similar cases. Organizations for persons with disabilities are afraid to use litigation as a strategy for change in policy and practice. When dialogue fails most organizations of persons with Disabilities end at dialogue and when this has been frustrated they do not go to the next levels of advocacy and use the courts.  


5. DZT partnered with an organization of people with visual disabilities in the suit – were there any other good lessons learned? How have you reached out to other DPOs to share your experience?


A number of good cases were learned and these included:


  • It is important to use all strategies from dialogue, engagement, petitioning parliament and litigation when all else fails
  • Partnering with other civil society organizations has benefits
  • The Constitution of Zimbabwe is an important document that persons with disabilities need to use more which is currently under-utilized.
  • We learned that demanding accountability means at times confronting the state and its agencies for positive change to happen.

We are yet to share our experience with other civil society organizations but there is a planned event coming up to provide support to organizations of persons with disabilities on how to operationalize Section 83 of the constitution on which Deaf Zimbabwe Trust did an analysis.