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.
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.
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.
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.
A number of good cases were learned and these included:
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.