Blind Welfare Association wants COVID-19 response plans to be more inclusive

The Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association (TTBWA) is calling on Government to ensure that all its response plans to the current COVID-19 crisis in the country are inclusive, and mindful of the needs of persons living with disabilities.

In an official statement issued today, the Association’s Chief Executive Officer, Kenneth Suratt, makes a call for all information on COVID-19 to be provided in multiple formats, ensuring that persons living disabilities, especially vision- and hearing-impaired persons, can be properly informed.

It also highlights the vulnerability of persons with disabilities to acts of violence and sexual exploitation, and urges the authorities to factor them in, as they strengthen capacity to deal with increases in gender-based violence during this time.

The full text of the Blind Welfare Association’s “Call for Action” follows…

This Call for Action is produced by The Trinidad and Tobago Blind Welfare Association (TTBWA), the national organisation representing the estimated fifteen thousand (15,000) persons who are blind and partially sighted in Trinidad and Tobago.

The actions are in line with recommendations by the World Blind Union (WBU) and reflect the urgent needs to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and responses to the pandemic. The Association recognises the diversity of needs among persons with disabilities, especially in times of crises, and urge the Government and relevant stakeholders to adopt inclusive approaches to “leave no-one behind”.

Participation and inclusion

1. The Association call on the government to establish Covid-19 Task Forces, inclusive of all persons with disabilities including persons who are blind and partially sighted and their representative organizations to monitor the evolving needs of persons with disabilities and advise on the implementation of inclusive response plans, programs and strategies.

Access to information

2. The Association call on the government, local and national agencies to provide information related to Covid-19 in accessible formats including large print, tactile format, accessible multimedia as well as written, audio, plain-language. In addition, we urge all broadcasting and mass media networks to ensure that information and announcements on Covid-19 are accessible to all persons with disabilities including persons who are blind and partially sighted.

3. The Association request that the government, local and national authorities to provide toll free phone numbers where persons who are blind and partially sighted can access relevant public information and appropriate emergency support.

Violence against blind and partially sighted women and girls

4. Recognising women and girls with disabilities are the most at risk of exploitation, violence and abuse due to the isolation and social distancing requirements, we call on local and national law enforcement agencies, human rights organizations and civil societies working in the area of gender- based violence to put in place appropriate measures to prevent all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse towards women and girls with disabilities including appropriate forms of gender- and age-sensitive assistance and support for women and girls who are blind and partially sighted such as access to free hotline phone numbers and services.

5. The Association calls on the government, local and national authorities to ensure that appropriate and effective mechanisms are available to identify and intervene to prevent instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against women and girls with disabilities including women and girls who are blind and partially sighted.

6. The Association request that the government should provide reasonable accommodation and support measures for blind and partially sighted women and girls who are dealing with daily home chores including childcare, cooking, house keeping etc.

Emergency Response

7. The Association calls on the government to establish inclusive emergency response programs that address the needs of all persons with disabilities, including the specific needs of persons who are blind and partially sighted living in both urban and rural areas and those who are homeless.

8. The Association urges the government and emergency relief agencies to ensure that emergency response packages including financial aid programs, registration processes and application forms for emergency relief support are fully accessible to persons who are blind and partially sighted.

9. The Association urges government, local and national authorities to provide additional financial support to caregivers and family members who are assisting persons who are blind and partially sighted.

10. The Association calls on the government to exempt persons who are blind and partially sighted and their close family members from personal income taxes to be able to afford basic needs.

11. The Association calls on the government to consider increasing disability financial benefits or any other form of disability pension relief during this period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

12. The Association calls on the government and relief agencies to ensure that persons with disabilities including persons who are blind and partially sighted will be given high priority in the event of evacuation and distribution of emergency relief supplies and services.

Groceries and home supplies

13. The Association urges all retail chains and consumer goods and suppliers, supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential businesses to ensure that online shopping services are fully accessible to blind and partially sighted persons. The Association also recommends that persons with disabilities must be given priority in fast shopping deliveries. In cases where online shopping is not available, we strongly recommend that businesses to dedicate special hotlines where persons with disabilities can call and order their products.

14. The Association urges businesses to ensure special hours are provided for blind and partially sighted shoppers and persons with disabilities.

15.  For in person shopping places, we recommend that the persons assisting blind customers to respect social distance and provide verbal instructions on how to navigate the shopping facilities.

Education

16. The Association calls on all education ministries to put in place accessible online schooling systems and ensure that parents or children guardians who are blind or partially sighted can fully access education materials so they can provide adequate support to their children.

Health

17. The Association calls on the government and health authorities to provide accessible health equipment and services to all persons with disabilities including persons who are blind and partially sighted.

Employment

18. The Association recommends that the government, private sector and non for profit organizations put in place reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities working from their homes.

19. The Association requests that the government should provide extra incentives to employers to sustain employees especially persons with disabilities who are at a higher risk of losing jobs.

The TTBWA will continue providing more calls for action as we continue to gather input from our members and partners.