The Caribbean Council for the Blind (CCB) is urging regional governments to remember those in their populations with specials needs, even as they craft policies and regulations to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In the August 2020 bulletin issued by its COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, the CCB points out that the pandemic, coupled with the fact that the region has entered the tropical hurricane season, poses a serious threat to people with specials needs and other vulnerable populations.

The bulletin is the result of a series of Zoom-based meetings first convened on Friday 3rd July 2020, along with several written submissions, including COVID related actions advanced by the World Blind Union.

The meetings were chaired by CCB President Kerryann Ifill (of Barbados). In attendance were Eye Health and Blindness services representatives from: Antigua-Barbuda; Barbados; Commonwealth of the Bahamas; the Republic of Guyana; Jamaica; St Lucia; and Trinidad-Tobago.

The bulletin notes that while some special needs people have been included in emergency relief projects, many are not receiving such benefits, and their families and friends continue to support them, a reality the CCB says must be addressed, because of the vulnerability of this segment of the population.

“In the English-speaking CARICOM, at least four in every one-thousand children of school age are visually impaired, and need special education services,” the CCB explains. “Four percent or about 240,000 adults are visually impaired, as well. They are unable to use sight-specific activities such as reading, writing, driving, locating farm animals, and even recognizing facial features.”

It adds: “Often, people living with special needs in our region are in dire situations. They now face tremendous challenges inherent in the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and an active hurricane season. The impact on this vulnerable population can be catastrophic.”

The CCB bulletin shortlists a series of recommendations for regional Government, which it believes will ensure that the needs of those living with disabilities are met, and their rights are respected.

According to the CCB Emergency Response Team, its deliberations on these issues “are indexed against targets articulated in the Sustainable Development goals, the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and other relevant conventions and protocols”.

Recommendations for regional Governments

■  Discontinue restricting specialist health clinics in the fight against COVID-19. This practice exposes people with co-morbidities, and there is nothing to gain by increasing death and disability, in an attempt to control COVID-19.

■  Inclusive Education. Education Ministries must put in place accessible online education systems and facilitate access by children with special needs.

■  National governments must ensure that people with special needs are adequately represented in decision-making relating to COVID-19 and other emergency responses, by:

a) Guaranteeing that all official information is provided in a format accessible to special needs people;

b) Establishment of a hotline—manned by suitably trained special needs people—to answer questions and provide tactical and strategic information to persons who are blind or have other special needs, as a matter of priority.

■  Accessible service delivery systems.

a) Governments, and all relief agencies to ensure that emergency response packages—including financial aid programs, registration processes, application forms for emergency relief support, and travel apps—are fully accessible to persons who are blind or living with other special needs.  Where possible, this  should include geo-mapping and similar IT and web-based solutions.

b) Suppliers of goods and services are urged to provide such in an accessible environment.

■  Employment.  The Emergency Response Team urges local and national governments to provide fiscal incentives and statutory mechanisms which prod employers to retain employees, especially persons with disabilities, who are at a higher risk of losing jobs.