Visually impaired in the dark on Covid-19

By Paulina Ndalikokule

THE chairperson of the Namibian Federation for the Visually Impaired (NFVI), Moses Nghipandulwa says people who are visually impaired have been sidelined when it comes to accessing information about the precautionary measures and state of emergency regulations, due to a lack of guidance materials.

This comes after Ministry of Health and Social Services senior program officer Petra Ipinge admitted that the ministry lacks the needed devices to print Braille reading materials for visually impaired people. Ipinge made the point at the Covid-19 Communication Center in Windhoek recently.

Nghipandulwa, whose federation has close to 16 000 members, said government has kept them in the dark for long and he fears that by the time the ministry is done printing the material it will be too late.

“I told them that you are really relaxing when it comes to visually impaired people. I heard that there is a committee working on that matter to go to procurement and then there will be a tender… and that will be a long process. I was informed that the tender was advertised today only and it will also close today. They are delaying and by the time they print these materials they will no longer be useful,” he said.

The NFVI chairperson stressed that it will be another challenge to distribute the material to members, students and learners as many of them had already travelled to their villages before the first days of lockdown. “The whole country is now on lockdown and people are restricted to movement so the issue is how they are going to distribute these materials, because most of our students and learners have already traveled to their homes? Some people stay deep in the village of Zambezi region, how will you reach that person?”

Nghipandulwa said the proposal to move to online classes seems like a day dream to them as they already face problems, such as lack of suitable facilities for the visually impaired, while many students and learners do not know how to use computers. “The idea of online classes will not work for visually impaired students and this is not only a [tertiary] student issue but also for our learners at government or private special schools. Many of these learners do not have laptops or cellphones. Some cannot even operate a computer,” he said.

Other than lack of proper technology, students also have to contend with inexperienced teachers and tutors who do not know how to use the equipment and online platforms. Nghipandulwa added that no word of funding allocation for visually impaired students reached his ears.

”Whether it is because of Covid-19 or not, students need to have this equipment. Government has allocated funds to help everyone but the problem is at the ministries, it is the ministries that are failing to do their work. Three ministries (Higher Education, Basic Education and the Information Ministry) were supposed to help us in this situation but all of them are just delaying implementation. We have a few visually impaired students at higher institutions but they still lack the necessary equipment,” the director stressed.

He also noted that during this time of a global epidemic, people who cannot see are putting in double the effort to keep healthy and stay safe. “Generally a person who cannot see needs assistance every time, now with the one meter [social distancing rule] it has become hard. You don’t even know what you’re touching but we are trying hard to adhere to the rules,” Nghipandulwa said.

He pleaded with law enforcement officers to be lenient when dealing with visually impaired persons.  “Not that we want to be extra special but police officers need to be extra careful when dealing with us, because people who cannot see are complex,” he said.