By Joyce Mukucha
Signs of Hope Trust, an organisation that inspires, empowers, and serves people with disabilities (PWDs) is decrying the negative impacts posed by the COVID-19 pandemic during the lockdown period and is embracing information communication technologies (ICTs) to reach out to this needy group.
In an interview, Signs of Hope Trust founder, Samantha Sibanda told Spiked Online Media that the organisation’s activities which include physical engagements with communities to educate the public about issues concerning disability were now requiring them to go virtual.
Unfortunately, Sibanda pointed out that it was difficult to adopt an online way of operating and programming taking into consideration that a large number of PWDs do not have access to advanced technology.
“As organisations of people with disabilities, like other organisations, we have really experienced what I would call a rough take-off to 2021. As Signs of Hope Trust, we do a lot of engagement meetings that require us to meet people physically but this Covid-19 situation has really disturbed those plans.
“The shift to putting the meetings online like many organisations have been doing to cope is really difficult because we have noted with concern that a lot of people with disabilities do not have access to advanced technology. They don’t even have access to smartphones so it becomes difficult for them to continue with our programming,” she said.
On the other hand, Sibanda said the challenging times caused by the pandemic will also give the organisation a fresh look at how better it can survive post-COVID-19.
She said there was a need to improve in as much as using assistive technology to give and conscientize PWDs about their rights and how they can represent themselves in advocacy and lobbying in community and national programs.
“We know that Covid-19 is here to stay and I feel that advocacy to assistive technology is one of the important areas we will certainly pick up as an organisation. We have done this in the past but I think we have to escalate our efforts because right now we have seen how disadvantaged a person who doesn’t have access to technological gadgets is – being left out in many things and discussions.”
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities puts technology as a human right, Sibanda added, and indeed it is, especially in this era of Covid-19 where all the information, zoom meetings and even education were being moved to online.
“Virtual operation and interaction has become the order of the day so it is imperative to ensure that PWDs are included making sure they have tools to use in as much as representing themselves and participating in national programs pertains,” said Sibanda.
Signs of Hope Trust is driven by the mandate to campaign for the participation of persons with disabilities in the community and national programs, information dissemination, and offering support for projects and various programs that involve PWDs.
It strives to see well informed, empowered citizens with disabilities who can be involved and represent themselves and play a role in national development.
It also exists to serve persons with disabilities, to be a source of hope; to inspire and empower them by magnifying and being a part of activities that advocate for equal rights and societal inclusion.