Supporting persons with mental disabilities: Legal challenges in COVID19 context
There are reports of persons with mental intellectual disabilities being beaten by police for being out during curfew hours. They may not always understand what terms such as ‘curfew’ means, or may not be able to adhere to the same as a result of their impairment. An example is a case reported in Kakamega of a mentally ill man reportedly beaten to death by police enforcing curfew.
Law enforcement officers should be sensitized about persons with mental disabilities and that may make it difficult for them to understand the current situation in the Country. In particular, police officers should be sensitized about persons with mental disabilities to avoid wrongful arrests simply because a person may not be coherent or may not understand jargon.
Provide information about curfews and other orders related to COVID19 in easy to read and plain language. Engage family members and other support networks in the community in providing information on curfews and other orders related to COVID19 and helping the identified vulnerable people to follow these orders.
Public restrictions based on public health, and actions of law enforcement and security personnel, must not discriminate in any way against persons with mental disabilities. Psychiatric coercive measures must not be used as any part of the response to COVID-19. Human rights standards and mechanisms offering protection to persons deprived of their liberty and those in congregate settings, including those in psychiatric units and institutions, must remain in effect and not be reduced as part of emergency measures.
The right to access information; There are barriers in accessing information on COVID-19 in accessible formats by all such as sign language, Braille, Easy Read; and also barriers in accessing information about mental health services and in members of the public being able to communicate with the Ministry of Health. Currently, there are barriers in accessing information on COVID-19, particularly by people in psychiatric units, and by people with intellectual disabilities who require information in easy to understand formats, people with dementia and children.
Information about COVID-19 should be presented in ways that are accessible to all. This means providing information in plain language/easy to understand formats, ensuring that Deaf persons can receive information on COVID-19 on an equal basis with others and providing information in culturally sensitive child friendly formats. This may also entail providing education for parents on how to talk to their children about COVID-19 and its impacts. Additionally, the messaging on the virus should also be in local languages where possible and local media outlets should be used to disseminate the messages as a matter of urgency.