By Tafara Chikumira
SEVERAL studies have confirmed that over 96 per cent of children with disabilities were excluded on information to do with disabilities as most of these children failed to get proper education as compared to their peers due to lack of expertise on how to handle them by teachers.
Researchers and stakeholders in the academia are in Gweru to share their research findings on the effects of COVID-19 on children with disabilities with a view to coming up with recommendations for policy makers to draft policies that will ensure that everyone plays a part in the country’s national development going forward.
A number of studies have pointed towards a heart-rending reality, that most children with disabilities had a torrid time in participating in some of the government programmes and other issues pertaining to development due to lack of access to information at the height of the pandemic.
A Researcher Professor Stella Muchemwa said , “I was doing my research in Masvingo District on students with visual impairment. I found out that almost 100 per cent of them had difficulties in finding alternative education. The teachers were not technical in dealing with those with visual impairment as they offered lectures online for the other students. The problem is that most of the teachers lack the speciality in this area and as such the children were left lagging behind.
“My research proved that we have very few people with disabilities that are enrolled in tertiary institutions as compared to the general demography of such people. The main problem is that we don’t have proper statistics on the actual number of the people with disabilities in the country, despite several statistics we try to carry out through processes like census. This gives us a problem in addressing their plight. Another issue is that we only have one tertiary institution training teachers on special disability issues. Statistics prove that disabilities are more prevalent in third countries meaning we are not safe if we can’t ensure that their needs are addressed through proper training,” said Dr Alice Dliwayo, Researcher.
Another Researcher Dr Emanuel Munemo said, “It is disheartening to note that accessibility of COVID-19 information and awareness for people with visual impairment in Zimbabwe the missing link. Most of the information on what needs to be done was presented in written form and not in braille which made it difficult for such people to access it. Yes, some would read for such people but there is always a problem where there is need for someone to interpret. This left most of these people out in terms of participating in some key issue.”
The Midlands State University, which recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNICEF on strengthening issues to do with research concurs on the need to invest in research as a foundation to well-coordinated development.
“People with disabilities are an essential group which should also be part of the development programme. As UNICEF, our programme action is guided by research. We need to find out the impact of problematic areas so that we can see where we can partner government. We also need to be aware of the gaps that exist in our communities so that we address such issues,” noted Dr Tajudeen Oyewale UNICEF- Country Director.
“Research is what guides us as we go forward. We need to understand the needs of our communities so that we are able to apply the Education 5.0 which we recently adopted. We want the CSOs, the government, the business and all the relevant stakeholders to be together and brainstorm and come up with policies that are inclusive in nature which will help the nation to move forward in unison,” explained MSU Vice Chancellor Professor Victor Muzvidziwa.
According to UNESCO, income for persons with disabilities shrunk by 50 per cent from US$43 to US$13 during the COVID-19 period.
The Government of Zimbabwe is trying to address the plight of people with disabilities with President Emmerson Mnangagwa launching the disability policy last year in a major milestone meant to empower the group.