Get-hooked May 5, 2021
As India battles severe pandemic, volunteer groups reach out to persons with disability affected by Covid
The whole world is watching as India battles a massive surge in Covid-19 cases in the second wave of the pandemic. This time, no one is spared, including children. The collapsing medical infrastructure has left everyone vulnerable, especially disabled people.Many volunteer groups have come together to help persons with disability in this severe Covid-19 outbreak.
“SOS – The patient has Down’s Syndrome and needs an oxygen cylinder urgently. He is being cared for by his single mother who is not well herself.”
Urgent requirement of O+ plasma for my brother with Down syndrome! He is in a critical condition!
WhatsApp messages like these from disabled people and caregivers of persons with disability seeking support in the midst of the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in India led a group of people in Bengaluru to spearhead a pan India Covid support helpline for disabled people. In less than a week the helpline has grown to 40 members from across the country.
Disabled people come together to offer support
Many of them are persons with disability like visually impaired HR professional Vishal Kumar Jain, who was moved by these appeals from Covid-affected disabled people and decided to help.
“Instead of complaining about things falling apart, we decided to do something’, says Jain, who lives in Bengaluru. “We come from different walks of life, and this is a large network of 40 people from across India. We all got on a call and pretty much launched this Covid support helpline for disabled overnight”.
The biggest challenge this volunteer driven Covid support initiative for disabled people is facing is lack of access. This includes accessible information regarding Covid protocols, to vaccines availability and registration, to oxygen cylinders and beds. The first priority the group has identified is to ensure the right information reaches disabled people, who are most vulnerable to Covid.
“We used the government information and what is publicly available to create a database”, says Jain. “People are sharing a lot of information, but this gets outdated, so we keep looking for more information that caters to people of all disabilities”.
On an average the Covid support helpline for disabled gets 20-25 calls a day from disabled people and their caregivers seeking help with groceries, cooked food, medicines, and information regarding availability of beds and oxygen.
“We received a call from a village in Kashmir where the person wanted medicines urgently”, says Mini Jain, a volunteer with the Covid support group for disabled people. “The nearest pharmacy was a day’s walk, and we had no contacts there so mobilising people was a major effort. Luckily we were able to help them with the aid of other volunteer groups”.
The situation is much worse during the second wave of the Covid pandemic. The severity of the Covid outbreak has heightened panic levels among disabled people. The collapsing infrastructure is adding to that. Disabled people and their caregivers are anxious about what might happen. – Vishal Kumar Jain, Volunteer, Covid Support Helpline for Disabled People
The biggest confusion perhaps is regarding availability of Covid vaccines for disabled people. To begin with the Covid vaccine registration portal is not accessible to disabled people. Many disabled people also lack access to smartphones. “We are appealing to the government to prioritise people with disabilities for the vaccine and open registration via IVR or calls”, says Jain.
If you are a disabled person or a caregiver for a person with disability seeking Covid-related support anywhere in India, you can call the Covid Support Helpline or WhatsApp +91-8618803780. Or fill out your request here.
Focus on healthcare support for disabled
Project Mumbai, which won a top United Nations award in recognition of its Covid-19 relief work last year, is focusing on healthcare support for persons with disability during this second wave of the Covid outbreak. This includes vaccination and availability of oxygen. Project Mumbai Co-founder Shishir Joshi lauds the Mumbai civic administration for launching a massive vaccination programme despite the health challenges faced. However, he is concerned about the exclusion of disabled people.
“What is lacking is the clarity regarding whether there are specific privileges or facilities that disabled people can avail of to ensure their hardship is reduced”, points out Joshi. “In the absence of this, practically everything has become a challenge. There are no separate queues, ramps/passages/counters or instructions linked to concerns which could put a person with disability at ease”.
Project Mumbai is reaching out to key Mumbai hospitals to persuade them to have a dedicated Covid vaccine counter to help a person with disability. This will ensure a faster vaccination process. “We are at this stage in conversation with the vaccination centres”, he says, although the vaccine shortages are slowing down the progress on this front.
Project Mumbai is also looking into providing oxygen, through oxygen concentrators, for disabled people who are home quarantined. “We will soon be launching home delivery of oxygen concentrators to disabled people. This facility would be free with no hidden charges”, adds Joshi. Project Mumbai has also launched a facility of non-Covid hospitals dashboard for disabled people who do not need Covid related support”.
If you are a disabled person or caregiver for a person with disability living in Mumbai who needs Covid related information or help, you can find it on the Project Mumbai website here.
Watch in Sign Language
- “UK needs a National Disability Strategy, co-produced with disabled people” – Disability rights champion Kush Kanodia