What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, and cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing./p>

DPI Key recommendation for Disability Inclusive COVID-19 response

As entire world is currently battling the crisis of COVID-19, one segment of the society that has been severely impacted due to pandemic is People with disabilities. This marginalised section of the society even at the pre-coronavirus time was likely to access health facilities, employment and education. Now with coronavirus pandemic, lives of people with disabilities will be more adversely affected. A holistic approach should be adopted for people with disabilities ensuring that they are kept at centre while preparing guidelines for tackling coronavirus infection.

Here are some recommendations and actions focusing on person with disabilities that will mitigate impact of Covid-19 on them.

Disseminating Information

Persons with disabilities are more susceptible to contract Covid-19 as they experience barriers to follow simple hygiene measures like regular hand washing, maintaining social distancing. To lower such risks it is recommended that they be provided information about reducing the impact of infection and kinds of services offered during such times in easily accessible formats.

  • Communication through mass media should include sign language, information in large fonts.
  • For blinds persons and similarly people facing difficulty in reading print edition, digital media should be made accessible for them including news and information in audio formats.
  • Interpreters while communicating information can opt for transparent masks which will enable lip movement and facial expressions.

Health

People with disabilities need frequent medical access and lockdown can put such persons at greater risk.

  • Make sure measures are put in place for people with disabilities to access medical facilities. Transportation to the hospital, interpreters, availability of medicines among other facilities should be made available to them.
  • A separate arrangement should be made for people with disabilities who are under quarantine and adequate number of personal assistants be made available for them.
  • Services for essential health, reproductive health and other such services should be accessible for people with disabilities at their home. Take an example of United Arab Emirates (UAE) which has launched programme on national level to test such people at their homes and till April more than 6 lakh Covid-19 tests have been conducted. Similarly other countries should follow footsteps of UAE in testing people with disabilities at their homes.
  • Lockdowns have led to anxiety and depression impacting mental health of all which includes people with disabilities. Online counselling sessions should be provided to people with disabilities to cope with such anxiety and several other mental health support systems should be in place without discriminating against them.
  • Sign language interpreters who are engaged in emergency health services should be provided personal protective equipment (PPE) in same way as the healthcare frontline workers dealing in Covid-19.

Livelihood and Social protection

With economy going downwards, loss of jobs, pay cuts putting people's life at discomfort and thereby affecting their socio-economic position, the impact of such factors on people with disabilities becomes more relevant. The impact is larger considering the fact that huge number of such people are from informal economy.

  • To protect socio-economic position of people with disabilities, increasing amount of disability benefits, door-step delivery of essential food items should be made available.
  • Subsidised food and medicines should be made available for them.
  • Coverage should be extended and eligibility norms should be made easy for people who were previously not eligible for disability benefits and online registration of such persons should be facilitated.
  • People with disabilities who are still engaged in employment like health workers and government officials should be provided special equipment to stay safe during the pandemic.
  • Alternate platforms should be made accessible and enough flexibility must be given to allow people with disabilities to work from home.

Education

Students with disabilities are more prone to face obstacles in accessing education especially if they re-join classes post lockdown which can sometimes result in dropping out of education.

  • Measures should be taken to ensure students with disabilities can continue studying and can easily access education.
  • If required specialized equipment supporting their education should be made available.
  • Guidelines should be made and provided to those who are engaged in education sector on how to support students with disabilities in the areas where education centres have been closed due to pandemic.
  • Special scholarships must be given to such students to encourage them to continue learning.
  • For disable students interaction with their peers plays an important part in the lives during school days. With the closure of schools efforts should be made for their social well-being.
  • Post lockdown, ensure that students with disabilities are facilitated for returning school and curriculum must be inclusive. Ensure such students do not lag behind in their learning and if required education players should conduct extra programmes for them.

Safety

People with disabilities encounter incidents of violence and now being isolated in times of coronavirus they are prone to abuse and violence especially women and girls.

  • A local network of people with disabilities including women and girls should be made ensuring that required assistance and reporting mechanisms are provided to them in case of any violence.
  • Community building capacity of people with disabilities should be focused enabling them to prevent and report disability related violence. Awareness and Sensitise
  • Sensitize officals on how the disease outbreak and the response plans can have a disproportionate impact on disabled persons.
  • Communication messages concerning public health must be respectful and non-discriminatory against people with disabilities.

Statement by DPI Chairperson Henrietta Davis-Wray on COVID-19 and Disability

The outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide, and particularly in the Global South, has exposed the challenges against persons with disabilities. No one can deny the achievements that have been taking place on the level of ensuring the inclusion of persons with disabilities globally especially in developed and middle income countries. We cannot but admire and appreciate the efforts that have been made by international organizations, mainly The World Bank, the International Labor Organization, the United Nations and its agencies, for developing guiding policies and strategies to support and mobilize its member states towards the adoption of systematic practices of disability inclusion.

However, the pandemic has shown us a long forgotten reality about disability and living conditions of persons with disabilities in many regions around the world.

Despite many promising reports coming from member states about the increasing commitment towards disability inclusion practices, the outbreak of Corona virus has revealed a concerning situation around the world and shows that governments’ response are not enough! Truly, these practices are nothing but results of ineffective policies, and its implementation that have obviously excluded persons with disabilities from essential inclusion, welfare, and social protection support services.

On the level of emergency health care and quarantine arrangements:

  1. Persons with disabilities are not given the priority to be admitted to hospitals’ emergency care facilities due to discriminatory policies. For example, some hospitals would not admit persons with disabilities, because they cannot prove to be covered by any health care insurance, or governments do not have effective health coverage for persons with disabilities anyway.
  2. Health care givers are not well trained on how to interact with persons with disabilities during times of emergency like COVID-19.
  3. Governments are not dedicating Quarantine facilities that are accessible for persons with severe disabilities.
  4. Relevant health care guidelines specific to Corona virus are not available in accessible format for blind, partially sighted persons, and persons with intellectual disabilities.

On the level of enforced lockdown of businesses and livelihood resources:

  1. Governments are not offering alternative support for families of persons with disabilities who have been the first to be laid out by companies due to lockdown.
  2. Resources of livelihood and assistive aid resources are extremely scarce, and persons with disabilities are drastically losing the financial capacity to afford the increasing living costs.
  3. Internet infrastructure in developing countries are extremely primitive and inaccessible which hinders persons with disabilities’ chances for remotely maintaining their jobs, or attending online learning programs for children with disabilities.

Of course we cannot deny the special situation of certain countries that have been suffering for years from ongoing conflicts, political turbulence, or socio economic turmoil. However, we cannot anymore accept the usage of these situations as excuses by many governments and other stakeholders to continue its unforgivable neglect for the right of persons with disabilities to live with dignity in their countries.

Therefore, we call on governments, international organizations, and United Nations to:

  1. Enhance their collaboration and coordination platforms with grassroots organizations of persons with disabilities, who only could present the rather accurate picture of the ongoing situation.
  2. Identify strategies for mobilizing member states to conduct a holistic reform that essentially takes into account the inclusive policies, in areas of: health care, social protection, access to information, and mainstream education.
  3. Allocate immediate financial aid resources to help the survival of persons with disabilities and their families.
  4. Consider the strengthening of organizational and leadership capacity of persons with disabilities and their organizations, so they could play a rather effective role in monitoring governments’ and other stakeholders’ commitment towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in pandemic related emergency and recovery policies, programs, and operations.
  5. The governments to give the priority for the enforcement of national human rights and disability councils that should be in charge of supervising and monitoring the implementation of CRPD compliant laws.

To conclude, the situation of persons with disabilities around the world, mainly in the Global south, during the current pandemic is worrisome. All efforts of promoting inclusion and sustainable development are under the risk of dramatic collapse. We are all concerned about the future of countries. We all should take advantage of this pandemic to work together, sincerely and systematically, to fulfill the dream of sustainable development. It is the moment to consider disability inclusion not only a matter of luxury, but an essential strategy for saving one billion people with disabilities, 80 percent of which are in the global south. Let us consider this pandemic as an alarming reality that is showing us that systematic inclusion and effective global solidarity is a must!