Protecting Children with Disability in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic
Protecting Children with Disability in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic
Since 28th of February 2020, when Nigeria recorded her index case of coronavirus- Covid-19, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The focus of the government in fighting the pandemic has ranged from stopping the spread, keeping people hungry free, down to keeping the economy from falling down on it’s face.
Kudos can be given to the government for their efforts so far in leaving no stone unturned, however, the effect of the pandemic on People with Disabilities/ Disability- PWD, especially children with disabilities have not gained so much attention.
The big question is, what laws and policies are put in place to protect these young ones during this pandemic?
The UN convention on the rights of child, article 23 recognises that
1) A mentally and physical disabled child should enjoy full and decent life.
2) The rights of a disabled child to special care and assistance for which the application is made.
3) Assistance shall be provided free of charge and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receive education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation of employment.
But the absence of government policies to specifically protect children with disability during this pandemic, not just to lump together with the adults with disability without considering their peculiarities, has brought to limelight the constant issue of marginalization by the government.
There is an adage that says, “He who is down fears no fall.” This can be used to describe the present situation of children with any form of disability in Nigeria, whether blind, deaf, physical or intellectual disability during this Covid-19 era.
Except that in this case, there is something worse than a fall. So, it turns out that the already marginalized people can indeed get further marginalized. A time where people without disabilities are crying out, one wonders what would become of PWDs or children with disabilities.
Starting with the deaf, the neglect of the deaf children and adults in this covid-19 period is unimaginable. Firstly, the general awareness of the pandemic, how the virus spreads and how to avoid getting infected had been on all media outlets and even in different languages, except in the language of the deaf- the signed language.
Not a single signed video of this pandemic on any media outlet is made available for the deaf. How are they to know about this pandemic or survive through it?
The skill of reading might help the educated lot, but what becomes of the deaf in rural and even urban areas who do not know how to read yet? The government has not been able to take this information to their doorstep. How are they expected to live through this pandemic?
Now the marginalization gets even worse, the frequent changes in the government’s effort to fight the pandemic created the need for frequent addresses to be made. Speech briefs by the president and governors have become the most anticipated information the public awaits.
The sad thing is that while the general public gets their anticipated speech, the deaf is left high and dry. None of these speech briefs recognized that the deaf population still have a right to information as citizens of the country. No signer was brought in to interpret the speeches to them, thus leaving them totally dependent on their hearing counterparts.
Kudos can be given to the Presidential Task Force for filling this gap in their daily briefings to the nation, a thing the governors need to emulate. One might say that the written forms of the President’s speeches were made available, but then again, the non- literate deafs have been forgotten.
The recent Nigerian policies formulated in the battle with this pandemic doesn’t considered nor make provisions for the children with disabilities to continue receiving daily care in this era. Of course it is unarguably pertinent to save lives first, hence the lockdown, but life during and after the lockdown for them leaves little or nothing to hope for.
No designed measure was put in place to ensure an effective and continual access to therapy and education based on their special and peculiar needs. In the battle with this pandemic, schools on different levels have been shut down to curb the spread of the virus and learning resumed online.
However, this online learning is only beneficial to people who could afford to get different technological gadgets or television, and specifically not for children with disability. How is a blind child who needs a braille to study be part of the online teaching since it is impossible to post braille materials online? How can a deaf child access academic materials online when there are no signed videos teaching numeracy or literacy, one can’t even mention signed science subjects since there was a vacuum there in most deaf schools even before the coronavirus era.
In the case of children with developmental disorders like autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and others, who require a face to face therapy with their behavioural therapist, speech therapist or special educator, learning also stopped a long time ago.
With no knowledge of how long the battle with this pandemic might last, these children will remain at home with no therapy, which can result to regression in already achieved goals.
Recently, JONAPWDs Lagos state chapter has taken the initiative to make provisions for some level of accessibility for children with disability to have access to E-learning, this is a good step in the right direction which other states need to emulate, and if possible, a project the federal government need to champion. However, its ability to meet the needs of all types of disabilities is still something to hope for.
In conclusion, the difficulty faced by PWDs, specifically children, in this pandemic era cannot be totally documented as it is he who wears the shoes can tell where it hurts most, even some pains remain unexplainable. The least the government could do is to lessen their burdens by been very conscious of their special interest as they vary.
Now, while palliative sharing is undoubtedly beneficial to PWDs too, but what has been done to meet their specific needs according to their disability in this era? Hence, it is safe to say that while the rest of the world battles with COVID-19, children with disabilities are having to battle with COVID-19 and more.
Written by Joy Jenyo
Joy Jenyo (Mrs.) is a certified special educator that works with children with developmental disorders and other special needs. She is a volunteer with the Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria (ALDIN), which is supported by Disability Rights Fund (DRF), and also volunteer’s with S-Deli, an NGO that works and advocates for the deaf community in Nigeria. She holds a degree in mass communication from Imo State university and a post graduate Diploma with centre for children with communication and developmental disorders, University of PortHarcourt. She currently resides in PortHarcourt, Rivers State.
Well written article! I have always believed in the power of the community more than I have believed in the willingness of the government to care for the people, especially PWDs.