Globally, the novel coronavirus pandemic has increased citizens’ dependence on government, the health care sector and the media for care and information. In this report, ENE OSANG writes on its impact on hearing-impaired women.
“Imagine the pain of seeing one of our women sending her naked body video/pictures in exchange for cash and another agreed to sell her body in exchange of food to feed her children. Imagine how a deaf woman who just lost her husband weeping daily on how she will be able to feed her children at this difficult time? Imagine thousands of our women who solely depend on trade with no other means to feed or support their children. Imagine someone without voice or hearing speak up when in need?
“Our women are hopeless, rejected and neglected by the society claiming to have support for them and the effects of lockdown have deeply affected their mental and psychological well beings as well.”
The above were lamentations of the executive director, Deaf Women Aloud Initiative (DWAI) and chairperson, Abuja chapter of the Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN), Mrs. Hellen Beyioku-Alase, a 40-year-old mother of four (all boys) and strong disabilities’ rights advocate.
Beyioku-Alase described the coronavirus pandemic as “a very trying period for deaf women” in particular as they are not adequately captured in most of the responses and government intervention so far.
Speaking exclusively to this reporter via WhatsApp chat she said, “Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the way of life,” expressing concerns on health care accessibility should a deaf woman need care or is infected this period.
Hearing impairment is obviously one major challenge faced by the deaf amongst many others, making life very difficult for them especially when they are sick and need to access healthcare facility.
The DWAI in its efforts to break the communication barriers between the deaf and health care providers is in the process of developing a sign-language glossary and, therefore, embarked on massive campaigns through workshops, seminars, and visits to hospitals across the federal capital to seek inputs of medical practitioners in the glossary so as to enable them access health care without much difficulties but this move is still in the process of yielding any meaningful result.
As the world is faced with the coronavirus pandemic; a great health challenge, people all over are dependent on the media for daily information, briefings, updates and safety measures to prevent them from getting infected.
For the deaf, sign-language interpreters is the best way to adequate information except for those who can read even though written information on television is as transient as the spoken words and is very difficult to grasp all messages.
It is as a result of this and the need for all to be informed and stay safe that the deaf women are lamenting over the lack of specific attention to their plights of hearing impairment to adequate information when the disability bill has been passed into law by the federal government.
Beyioku-Alase said, “Covid-19 has adverse effects on deaf women all over the country and this is due to barriers in accessible information. In Nigeria today, the numbers of persons with Covid-19 cases keep increasing daily and citizens tune into their TV or radio sets to watch or listen to nightly news to get daily briefings of updates on the global health pandemic that is affecting our nation, but the deaf community is being left out except during the presidential task force media brief when there was a sign-language interpreter.
“In the midst of a fast-moving outbreak where government and non-government officials use different technology, radio and TV jingles to get health information across to her people, the deaf are left behind to struggle for information.”
Continuing, she said, “The deaf do not have adequate access to information through the media, community and appropriate government channels. The absence of sign-language interpreters and failure of the public to accept and accommodate the usage of sign-language as part of their official meetings with deaf people has made things very difficult for us to be accepted in the society.
“At this difficult time even with the ratification of Nigeria Disability ACT into law, videos regarding Covid-19 on Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) website lack access to vital health care information for sign-language users who are deaf and this can endanger lives.”
President Muhammadu Buhari in the past weeks announced palliative measures such as food distribution, cash transfers and loans repayment waivers to ease the pains of the restrictive policies.
The president also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households to enable support to additional one million homes with its social investment programs, assuring that the Presidential Task Force will do whatever it takes to support citizens especially the vulnerable throughout the period.
Beyioku-Alase hailed the government efforts to cushion the effects of pandemic, but expressed dissatisfaction over “the manner the palliatives are being distributed.”
“Government is trying despite the little resources available to combat this sudden outbreak such as ensuring policies and emergency directives reach citizens through the media, as well as equipping our hospitals and training of health workers with necessary facilities to accommodate Covid-19 patients.
“However, it is imperative to note that the supportive measures put in place by the government and its agencies excluded most civil society and community-based organisations for the people with disabilities. Generally, no adequate attention has been given to persons with disabilities in this trying period, especially to most of us who rely on one form of trade or the other to support ourselves,” she said.
She said further that, “Since the distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable during the lockdown period, none of our deaf women has been considered to benefit from that except a few individuals who have close contacts or relatives with the government.
“In fact, the palliative measures put in place by the government for vulnerable failed to capture many persons with disabilities. The relief materials, conditional cash transfers, and foods items promised by the government for the vulnerable excluded millions of persons with disabilities, especially the deaf, across the country, but we are hoping that government would reconsider their stance to include persons with disabilities.
“Also, the Ministry of Women Affairs has not assisted any deaf woman at this period. Despite the efforts of the ministry to invite several disabled people’s organisations on a roundtable discussion on the distribution of relief materials, deaf women and its organisation were left out with no representative.
“Those who claim to represent the ministry and the government have captured most of our names for more than five times, but nothing has so far been distributed to our group and many other persons with disabilities.”
How they’re coping with lockdown
Beyioku-Alase decried the hardship most deaf people go through, saying that life has particularly become more difficult for deaf women who are also caregivers during the lockdown and has continued.
“The majority of deaf women who are mothers, widows with children are dying in silence because their main source of livelihoods was forcibly taken away from them with no hope to feed their families. The five-week lockdown and social distancing placed all over the country have made things worse and difficult for deaf women and this has led them to seek help outside their homes.
“I have been daunted with several texts, WhatsApp messages and video signs to help them with the little I can or with food or cash to feed their children. As a concerned mother, I have exhausted the little savings in my account to assist them at this trying period and that is why our organisation (Deaf Women Aloud Initiative) and with the support of few individuals initiated the Covid-19 Food Bank for Deaf Women.
“The food-bank has assisted the first batch of 40 poor deaf women who are mainly widows, single mothers with children who find it difficult to feed themselves. We are still looking up to several organizations, individuals and friends to help, support and empower deaf women to kick out hunger at this difficult time in the next batch.
“Deaf women face daily discrimination, stigmatisation, isolation, abuse and malnutrition. They are living in hopelessness, rejected and neglected situation and the impact of lockdown has deeply affected their mental and psychological well beings.”
Beyioku-Alase also faulted the decision by the federal government to relax the lockdown order, describing the move as “very risky” considering the daily increases in the number of persons with Covid-19 cases, and the lack of obedience to safety measures.
“Millions of people are not observing the precaution measures put in place by the government so this is not the best decision.”
She appealed to government to include the hearing-impaired in Covid-19 decisions and interventions while stressing the need for sigh-language interpretation on all TV stations.
“There should be sign-language interpreters during evening News for the deaf people to be adequately informed of what is going on around the world. Government should take into consideration and prioritise persons with disabilities in their plans, policies and emergency directives. They should consider putting an end to communication/language barriers for the deaf people by promoting sign-language usage in their official matters as well as ensuring that deaf women or their organisations are adequately represented for equality and accessibility.
“Government should put proper accessible hand-washing and sanitisers for public usage and enforce the use of face masks. Women, including those with disabilities, across the world today are standing up for their rights to make decisions and be accepted by the society for their socio-economic, health, policies, employment and growth. Unfortunately, for deaf women, opportunities to make their own decisions, participate in formal and informal matters are, sadly and often absent.
“Our societies today discourage deaf women and girls from taken decisions or participate in matters that concern their well-beings and they (societies) prefer to deal with family members, spouses, or medical personnel, government official on anything that concerns them instead.
“I, therefore, urge the government of Nigeria to prioritise needs of persons with disabilities in their plans and responses to Covid-19. Lockdown has partially been lifted, the way forward for Deaf women is to be empowered again with necessary tools and cash to enable them have something to sell or trade so that they can generate incomes to feed their families without depending on anybody or go back to alms begging or prostitution.
“Tools like sewing machines, hairdressing dryers and tools, grinding pepper machine, and cash from #20,000 and above will help them individually back to her feet without difficulty because most of what they save must have gone into feeding their family during the difficulty time.”