COVID-19 Op-ed

Is Everyone On-Board? Achieving Inclusive Communication in Timor-Leste amid COVID-19

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Celso da FonsecaStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

On 28 March 2020, the government of Timor-Leste declared a
state emergency with the government decree-law No. 3/2020. This decree-law
reveals a new model of social interaction because the state is emphasizing
limiting people’s movement and promoting social distancing as the health
procedure and mechanism of COVID-19 prevention.The implementation of the
state emergency is being led by the prime minister with the national team of
COVID-19 crisis management center called Centru Integradu
Gestaun Crize
(CIGC). Regardless of the task
that they do, CIGC has regularly provided information on the case of
COVID-19. It also includes people who are affected and suspected in the
mandatory quarantine. The information on the COVID-19 outbreak is bringing a
real opportunity for persons with disabilities because the information
provided by CIGC through National Television (TVTL) adopted inclusive
information and communication for persons with hearing impairment.Some
disability rights defenders believe that COVID-19 outbreaks also have
revealed an advantage to the persons with disabilities. Persons with hearing
impairment are recognized. When CIGC provide information, sign language
interpretation is included on the national television-TVTL. This situation
indicates a new model of inclusive communication in the national information
and communication sector even though in Timor-Leste, there is no national
sign language developed by the ministry of education and sport (The Dili
Weekly. 25 June 2019). However, there is a sign language program provided by
the local NGO, AGAPE-school of sign language in Dili (ADTL, 2016).The
national statistics of Timor-Leste (2015) reported that there are around
38,000 persons with disabilities in Timor-Leste with all types of
disabilities. And there are 12,583 persons with hearing impairments. And from
that number, approximately 2.386 people are categorized as students from
pre-school to university level.One of the coordinators from the Disability
Association of Timor-Leste ADTL highlighted that “it is the first time
in the history of Timor-Leste that the government used sign language in the
national television.” (Anonymous, 14 April 2020). It is one of the
success stories for disabled organizations—especially advocating the right of
persons with hearing impairment to gain access to information based on
equality and non-discriminatory services in Timor-Leste.Furthermore, as noted
from an interview with a representative of the Disable Person Organizations
(DPO), using sign language on the national television programs is great for
an inclusive communication. It is also generating a new advocacy step that
must be continuously improved and developed at the other policy levels. In
fact, he highlighted that his organization, DPO, have been advocating sign
language since 2004. However, the minister of education and sport in
Timor-Leste still had not developed a national sign language in Timor-Leste.
This is the reason why sign language has not been used at the distance
learning program by the ministry of education and sport. But this is the
right moment to have such a new development of sign language in Timor-Leste
(Anonymous, 17 April 2020).Overall, COVID-19 has created an opportunity for
advocating for including sign language in the national news on television.
The situation of the COVID-19 outbreak made it happen for sign language
recognition. This is the first step; it can be an excellent opportunity for
scaling-up the inclusive program. This importunity also provides a positive
step for future inclusion of people with disabilities in communication
through television.But more importantly, this situation opens a new
opportunity as a lesson learned for Timorese people about the inclusive
program. It also creates a lesson of how the right of persons with
disabilities must be promoted with an inclusive model. The rights of persons
with disabilities need to be taken into account. And it is important to note
that the advocacy process has been reaching into the government level. The
commitment of the government to respect, guarantee, and fulfill the rights of
persons with disabilities can be started now. It should be taking better
steps towards a more inclusive Timor-Leste society.REFERENCES:Anonymous
(14-17 April 2020). Personal Interview.Anonymous (17 April 2020). Personal
Interview.ADTL (2016), Submission from Member Organizations of the
Association for Disability Timor-Leste: The 26 the Session of the
Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review Working Group
s. Dili, 2016.    <
> Accessed on 18 April 2020.Aktualizasaun Informasaun Prevensaun
Covid-19 Ho Ms (April 2, 2020)  Available at <>
Accessed on 15 April 2020National of Statistic of Timor-Leste (2015).  <>
Accessed on 18 April 2020.The Dili Weekly (25 June
2019) Governo Sei Inklui
Lian Jestual Tetun Iha Eskola Publiku  
Accessed on 18 April 2020.Tatoli (April, 3 March, 2020). Eufrazia de Menezes
Tradutora Lian Jestual ba Ema ho Defisiensia.   <>
Accessed on 18 April 2020.

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