Webinar Examines the Implications of COVID-19 for People Living with Disabilities
In collaboration with Moenics Consulting, UKZN hosted a virtual dialogue on the implications of COVID-19 for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The webinar aimed to educate the public on the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities when accessing education and healthcare and explored solutions. It was facilitated by lawyer and international development practitioner, Ms Moyosore Olabintan.
Professor Ebenezer Durojaye Head of the Socio-Economic Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape focused on a social model for persons with disabilities. He highlighted that those with mild disabilities can function without assistance while persons with severe disabilities require much more support.
Ms Dinah Msipa Programme Officer in the Disability Rights Unit at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria emphasised that each person with a disability has specific needs. She defined education as the ability to access continuous learning and focused on reasonable accommodation as a means of adapting to a learner’s needs.
UKZN Law student, Ms Lydia Mabaudi addressed the online learning challenges faced by disabled students due to COVID-19 and called on educators to assist students by familiarising them with the technology used.
Fellow Law student Mr Thabo Magubane, who is a member of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) student chapter at UKZN, noted the need to ensure that the technology employed for online learning is inclusive. ‘Zoom isn’t suitable for deaf students and there’s no interpreter or transcription section for people to read. Lecturers need to check if the user interface is accessible before using platforms for online learning.’
Olabintan raised the question of the most effective strategies to ensure that advocating for persons with disabilities translates to real results. In response, Mabaudi noted that championing the rights of the disabled creates awareness and benefits people and/or organisations through sponsorship.
Turning to who is responsible for ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to education, Durojaye stated that this is the government’s obligation, while Magubane and Mabaudi added that developers of learning materials are equally responsible. Msipa asserted: ‘It’s everyone’s responsibility - communities, government, policy makers and educators.’
Durojaye highlighted that limited access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact as persons with disabilities require special treatment and that not receiving such treatment violates their rights.
Magubane also noted that, while home testing for COVID-19 should be available to persons with disabilities, affordability is an issue especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. He added that access to information is crucial in addressing the stigma associated with disability and urged the public to disseminate information about intellectual and developmental disabilities.
‘Everyone can play their part by respecting and educating people about disabilities. We need to be the change we want to see,’ explained Durojaye.
In closing the session, Olabintan listed steps attendees could take going forward, such as including disabled persons in all decision-making, making access to education a collaborative effort, teaching the community about disabilities and encouraging educators to make themselves more available to learners with special needs.
Words: Hlengiwe Khwela