Accessibility May 14, 2021
Access to Covid vaccines a challenge for disabled people across India, disability rights groups urge priority
With Covid cases rising across India, getting vaccinated has become one of the most important steps to increase immunity against the virus. But persons with disability are facing major barriers in getting the Covid vaccine like vaccine shortage, difficulty in accessing the CoWIN portal and lack of accessible infrastructure at vaccination centres.
Sudesh Bandekar, a visually impaired Mumbai resident working as an accessibility tester at BarrierBreak, has got both doses of the Covishield vaccine. His family doctor and wife helped him with the paperwork. Bandekar’s vaccination centre was on the ground floor.
“The centre had three-tier facilities for registration, vaccination and then observation”, says Bandekar. All the arrangements were made on the ground floor which is a big advantage for persons with disability going for the Covid vaccine”.
Bandekar is among the fortunate few to have taken both vaccines without a hitch. For a majority of persons with disability, the wait for the Covid vaccine is long and anxiety-ridden. The vaccine is one of the most important steps to increase immunity against the deadly virus and the sharp rise in cases is cause for concern.
Social media accounts are flooded with posts like these from disabled people and their caregivers.
Disabled people appeal on social media for Covid vaccine
When the nation is in a state of shock and fear, think of the population with severe disability. I am a quadriplegic in Bangalore and need your help for getting the right to be vaccinated at home or at door service for providing the same.
No responsibility towards elderly & disabled people as no at home or old age home or halfway home vaccination for them. What a regressive approach by Delhi Govt.
Until a few days ago, Shreya Vajpayi, who works in a family-owned business in Mumbai, was similarly worried. “My sister has Down syndrome and various studies show that people with Down syndrome are more vulnerable to Covid-19 given their compromised immune system. They should get priority after healthcare workers and the elderly. Yet, the government of India is not doing that”.
Vajpayi’s appeals on social media caught the attention of Bhavesh Sadhnani. Sadhnani, a consultant at Ernst & Young‘s Mumbai office, is dedicating his spare time to helping disabled people book Covid vaccine slots on the CoWIN portal. He closely tracks appeals posted on @mybmc, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Twitter timeline.
When I got to know that there wasn’t any support for persons with disability, I started taking time out in between work during the slot booking timings and booked slots for them. Since the vaccination drive for 18-44 years age group started just 10 days back, I have been able to lend a helping hand to three specially abled people. The main problem they faced is booking a slot in the nick of time. As we all know there are 10,00,00,000 people in Mumbai applying for 5,000 odd vaccination slots. There are no provisions on the app for them either. – Bhavesh Sadhnani, Volunteer for disabled people
Sadhnani has a special word of praise for Mumbai municipal authorities who have introduced special facilities like drive in centres where disabled people can take the Covid vaccine. “Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation reads every single tweet of mine and I’m glad they have finally opened doors for the specially abled”, he says. You can tag Sadhnani at @SadhnaniBhavesh if you need help.
Specific guidelines needed for disabled people
Inspired by Sadhnani, many others have come forward to help disabled people register for the Covid vaccine. Yet, their efforts are a drop in the ocean when one considers the number of persons with disability who are in need.
The Vasai Virar municipality outside Mumbai is an indication of the scale of the need. There are just two centres for the two-lakh population here. Until a few days ago, only one person with disability here had got the Covid vaccine.
“There are huge crowds at the Covid vaccine centres here which make them risky for disabled people”, says Rahul Bhandarkar, a social worker who is providing cooked food and other essential supplies to the disabled people and other needy persons here. “Besides, even the two centres have been shut for some time now due to non-availability of Covid vaccines”.
Dilip Angane, a content digitiser at BarrierBreak, and Mumbai resident has a good word for the support extended to disabled people in Mumbai but says the inaccessibility of the CoWIN portal is a major oversight. Angane, who is orthopedically disabled due to polio, has taken both doses of the Covid vaccine. “I got a lot of support from the hospital staff and volunteers when I went for my Covid vaccine shots but in general the whole process is inaccessible for disabled people which is a major oversight. It makes us dependent on others”.
Experiences like these that have led disability rights groups like Ektha Foundation and National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled to demand specific guidelines on Covid vaccines for disabled people across India. They are demanding among other things doorstep vaccine drives for elderly people and persons with disability.
Disability Rights Alliance member Meenakshi Balasubramaniam filed a PIL in the Madras High Court after repeated petitions to the previous AIADMK government went unheard. Following their petition, and a sustained campaign by Ektha Foundaation, the court directed the Tamil Nadu government to take steps to prioritise vaccines for disabled people and make vaccination centres accessible for persons with disability.
Demand for door to door vaccine drive for elderly & disabled
“Despite the court orders the government is yet to come up with guidelines”, Ektha Foundation told Newz Hook. “Accessibility at the vaccination centres are very poor and people are being vaccinated in the open air because of lack of access to the buildings. Most persons with disability are not able approach private facilities for the Covid vaccine due to the cost factor. We got no response from the chief minister and other officers at the state and national level, which left us with no choice but to approach the high court”.
Given their increased vulnerability this lack of priority for persons with disability is a criminal lapse. Even the Bombay High Court has directed the Centre to take a relook at its current protocol of not allowing door to door vaccination saying this could have saved the lives of disabled people who were unable to visit the vaccination centres for the Covid vaccines. Many disabled people on social media are posting comments like – “It gives me the feeling we are excluded from the vaccination drive only because of visual impairment’”, or “They don’t care about us”. Comments that don’t seem so far-fetched given the utter neglect shown to persons with disability until now.
Watch in Sign Language
- As India battles severe pandemic, volunteer groups reach out to persons with disability affected by Covid
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