ZBC sued for overlooking persons with disability during Covid-19 reportage

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By Robert Tapfumaneyi 

THREE local groups representing persons with visual and hearing impairments have taken the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to court seeking to have the national broadcaster compelled to air coronavirus information in formats they could access.

The groups include the Center for Disability and Development, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust and Zimbabwe National League of The Blind.

In their court application, the groups argued the rights of persons with disability continued to be infringed by government and ZBC during the current public health emergency.

ZBC, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima are cited as respondents.

The applicants are represented by Denford Halimani and Doug Coltart of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

In their court challenge, the groups argue that given the state of public health emergency and the national lockdown, there is need for ZBC to have sign language as part of its programming.

This, they say, will enable the disadvantaged communities to remain fully informed about the coronavirus pandemic as well as continuous changes effected on citizen compliance with the national lockdown.

The three organisations said there was need for all other official communications by government ministries involved in the fight against coronavirus to be produced in formats which were accessible to the communities they represented.

They want use of Braille pamphlets, audio versions, large print versions, and digital readable-text versions of official communications.

The applicants insist the absence of material friendly to their unique conditions was an infringement on rights to equality, access to information and other constitutional rights.

They also feel this posed a grave danger to the disadvantaged communities, their beneficiaries and the general public which may be exposed to the deadly disease.

The Applicants want the High Court to order ZBC to immediately provide sign language and or captions in all its content on Zimbabwe Television (ZTV) pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic during and after the national lockdown for the benefit of the deaf and hard of hearing people in Zimbabwe.

They also want Mutsvangwa and Moyo to immediately cause the production of pamphlets with information about coronavirus in Braille and to distribute the same information to visually impaired persons throughout Zimbabwe and ensure that all written information related to coronavirus provided by government is also made available in formats accessible to visually impaired and partially sighted persons.

These include audio versions, large text, and/or readable digital text, and distributed to the intended beneficiaries.

On Moyo, the applicants said, he should also ensure that the Ministry of Health’s coronavirus hotlines and centres are staffed with persons who are equipped to deal with the unique needs of persons with disabilities.