Despite governments having taken drastic steps, people with disabilities have been excluded as the advocacy hasn't factored in the inability of people who are immobile or living with mental illnesses
Since the beginning of the year, more than 200 nations across the globe have been affected by COVID-19. Many are still reeling under the devastating effects of the pandemic, with both public health and the global economy having taken a major blow. Emerging markets seem to be especially vulnerable, given that their healthcare facilities tend to be ill-equipped to tackle a pandemic of this nature and scale. Worse, and even more worrying, is the fact that the end to this global crisis is still nowhere in sight, and we have not been able to assess the damage to lives and livelihoods.
Despite governments having taken drastic steps, including offering varying degrees of support to their citizens, there remain certain sections of society that have been inadvertently excluded. Persons with disabilities (PwDs)—more than one billion in number globally—are one such group. This is because much of the advocacy on how to stay safe during the pandemic has not factored in the inability of people who are immobile or living with mental illnesses to follow these instructions. “Containment measures, such as physical distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress, and bathe.” 1 The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a document highlighting this issue, and explaining how PwDs may be at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. Some of these include:
The situation is no different in India, where 2.21 per cent of the population, or 2.68 crore people are officially recognised as PwDs. Here, some of the challenges highlighted above may be intensified, due to ignorance and poverty, or the lack of a conducive environment and amenities.
The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPWD) recognises that PwDs are more vulnerable to the virus because of their physical, sensory, and cognitive limitations. These limitations come in the way of their capacity to access, interpret, and use the information and services being made available to deal with COVID-19, and can lead to further marginalisation. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has also mandated that under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, departments in the states and union territories should disseminate information on COVID-19 in audio formats and Braille, while also ensuring that the government websites are accessible.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) demanded uniformity of pensions, increase in ex-gratia payments, announcement of an adequate economic package, information in accessible formats, and the enforcement of comprehensive, strict guidelines for the protection and safety of PwDs.
The state disability commissioners are nodal authorities assigned to coordinate with other relevant bodies. But since these positions are ad hoc in nature with no independence to plan and execute, there is little or no motivation to do what is necessary. This apathy points to the urgent need to establish an exclusive centralised statutory body, similar what other vulnerable sections have in place, such as the National Commission for Minorities and the National Commission for Women.
The urgency to address this cannot be overemphasised. We are already late in addressing the trauma and the inconvenience experienced by PwDs, and this needs to be alleviated with concerted and quick action. Some of these steps include:
While these are times when everyone needs to take good care of themselves and interact with others with caution, this is also the time for society to be aware of the needs of PwDs, and to ensure we do not forget those in need of assistance, support, and understanding.
Given the lockdown and the loss of livelihoods, the onus rests on the legislative and administrative agencies to address these gaps and to ensure the inclusion of PwDs, both in letter and spirit.
Disclaimer: Dr Reddy’s Foundation supports IDR for research and dissemination of underserved themes in the social sector.
Srilakshmi Bellamkonda heads the skill development initiative for people with disabilities (PwDs) at Dr Reddy’s Foundation.
This article has been sourced from India Development Review. You can read the original article here.