The deaf community in Fiji now have access to news and critical and accurate information relating to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic through the availability of sign language interpreters on the two national television stations at peak news hours, daily.

The initiative was led by the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under its Fiji Access to Justice project.  As a key human rights priority, persons with disabilities, including the deaf community, should have access, on an equal basis with others, to information and communication, state services and emergency services available during a global pandemic.

As such, the Commission had written to the two national television stations (Fijian Broadcasting Corporation and Fiji Television), initiating the idea of making their news bulletins more inclusive by using sign language interpreters, who constitute the ‘voice’ of deaf persons and hearing impaired, more so, enabling their accessibility to crucial information.

Commission Director, Ashwin Raj said during these unprecedented times when the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and with social media platforms rife with misinformation and false information on the pandemic, special attention and care must be afforded to the needs of the vulnerable groups, in particular, women, children and persons with disabilities, to have access to information and public health services. 

“It is encouraging to see that the two television stations are now using accessible formats to enable the deaf community or the hearing impaired to have access to critical and accurate information on issues of public interest which will assist them to make an informed decision in ensuring safety and adherence to the laws in terms of knowing about curfew hours, accessing medical services and fever clinics at designated locations, accessing funds from the Fiji National Provident Fund and in general, being able to fully participate in society at large,” Mr. Raj said.

This initiative is in line with Section 42 (1) of the Fijian Constitution which promotes the right of the persons with disabilities to have reasonable access to information and use of sign language. Article 9 and 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also aims at elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility to information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Resident Representative Levan Bouadze stated: “In these critical times, it is crucial that all citizens have equal access to important and timely information that can save lives.”

“UNDP has an existing partnership with the Fiji Association of the Deaf, which facilitated a fast response to the request from the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission’s request to have a team of sign language interpreters available for the evening news and special government updates on the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bouadze said.

The Fiji Access to Justice Project, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by UNDP, supports access to justice, in particular for impoverished and vulnerable groups. It does so by empowering people to access their legal rights and services, strengthening key justice institutions to deliver improved services, and strengthening the capacity of CSOs to deliver justice accompaniment services, with a special focus on supporting persons with disabilities and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

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