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Persons with disabilities and sustainable health development

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By Ngozi Perpetua Osuchukwu

Every year on 3rd of December, the world celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). This is to show care and identify with the group that seems to be marginalized and excluded in certain basic social services.

The theme for 2020 is: Building Back better: Towards a disability-inclusive, Accessibility and Sustainable Post COVID-19 World. The call is to create awareness, accept, acknowledge, include and mainstream people with disabilities in our communities and groups. They have needs for health information, health care and sustainability. With COVID-19 changing the world narratives of hygiene and health practices, the PWDs must be reached at, engaged and included in information service delivery.

They have rights like every other person and deserved to be served with all social amenities. They are full-fledged citizens that need to participate and contribute to sustainable health development. This is the reason the SDG mantra strongly emphasizes: Leave no one behind, not even the PWDs.

However, observations, experiences and even researches have shown that some families with PWDs hide their members and deny them access to basic social, health and information services as well as participating in community events. Hiding them or locking them in the rooms is inhuman and speaks volume of hate and sheer callousness.

Now, how will they know about the pandemic if they were hidden away? How will they protect themselves and indicate what they need? Is marginalizing them in this COVID-19 era not amount to sentencing them to death? Death in their own homes and communities where they are supposed to be protected and loved?

This is the essence of this year’s theme. Make them feel better from the previous treatment and carelessness, create spaces for health information and care, open the doors and clear the ways for them to access the information themselves in formats that suit their levels for sustainable health.

Talking about the accessibility of PWDs, some public places have been known to be unfriendly to PWDs especially those on wheelchairs and with mobility challenges. Yes! There are public places without elevators, ramps and friendly walkways for some PWDs. Some PWDs are on wheelchairs and cannot climb the staircase to access health care and information. Some do not walk on floor tiles or polished floors. Some do not walk without special aids.

Again, some with hearing impairments need sign language and many places they need to access information do not have sign language personnel. Some with visual impairments cannot read printed information but braille. Unfortunately, the PWDs with these challenges are limited for accessibility.

It is sad to state that many PWDs, especially those living in rural communities and from poor homes do not have any form of education or literacy. This makes the statement of Building Back better: Towards a disability-inclusive, Accessibility and Sustainable Post COVID-19 World more difficult to assimilate and take action on. These are our children, brothers and sisters, community members and fellow citizens. It is not an overstatement to state that many PWDs do not seem to receive social services like other people because of their geographical locations, literacy level, tribe, gender and other social roles placed on them by nature or by the environment or by man-made factors.

Hence at this time of COVID-19, specialised information resources on causes, treatment and prevention should be packaged and delivered to PWDs wherever they may be. The truth is that if they are denied access and excluded from this health information, they will be more susceptible to COVID-19 and no one is safe.

Therefore, everyone is needed to take action on this call to accessibility and sustainable post-COVID-19 World for PWDs. As we ruminate on this, we remember that many of them became PWDs through birth defects, accidents, sickness, disaster, war and conflict. To ensure global action, non-governmental organizations, community stakeholders, religious organizations, MDAs, corporate organizations, professional organizations, international agencies must reach out and support activities that include PWDs. It is about social justice.

Mrs Ngozi Perpetua Osuchukwu (CLN) lectures in the Department of Library and Information Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra state.

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