Disabled people side-lined during COVID-19, inclusion needed going forward: NCPEDP
The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) has prepared a report on the challenges faced by persons with disabilities due to the COVID-19 crisis. The report also puts forth measures that can provide immediate relief to the disabled community as well as ways to deal with future such crises.
Locked Down and Left Behind is the powerful title of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)’s report on the challenges confronting people with disabilities due to the COVID-19 crisis.
India’s disabled community is among the groups most affected by the pandemic and the NCPEDP report highlights the nature of the challenges they face. It also includes data from a survey of 1,067 persons with disabilities which showed that over 73% of those interviewed were facing severe challenges on account of the lockdown.
Interviews with a subsample of 201 persons with disabilities showed that:
- 67% had no access to doorstep delivery of essentials, only 22% confirmed they have access.
- 48% had no access to a government helpline.
- 63% did not get the financial assistance announced by the Union Finance Ministry for people with disabilities.
Varied challenges confront PwD
These are huge numbers and the report has personal accounts that highlight the varied challenges. Santosh*, for instance, did not get any relief because “government grassroots workers do not want to come to such a remote area.” Pradeep* was unable to get medical necessities like a catheter. He dialled emergency number 112 for help but was told to approach his neighbour instead! Moin*, who lives outside Ahmedabad, had to travel 40 kilometres to the city to get his ear treated as there was no medical help close by.
Such issues, points out the NCPEDP report, could have been dealt with if the Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines’ issued by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) had been uniformly enforced across India.
Disability inclusive guidelines not followed uniformly
The DePwD guidelines provide for many critical requirements such as doorstep delivery of food, medicines and water, exempting caregivers from lockdown restrictions and continuation of support services for persons with disabilities with minimum human contact. “Under the DePwD Guidelines, all information about COVID-19 should be available in simple and local language in accessible formats, and a 24×7 Helpline Number at State Level should be set up exclusively for persons with disabilities with facilities of sign language interpretation and video calling”, says the report.
Barring a few states however, the guidelines have been applied poorly and the NCPEDP report lists recommendations for the immediate relief of people with disabilities, as well as strategies for collaborative engagement in the future.
There are more people with disabilities in India than the entire populations of Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, Uruguay and Kuwait. Many of the challenges confronting persons with disabilities during lockdown could have been addressed had the government duly enforced its own directives. All the might and reach of the government is needed to provide relief to such vast numbers. – Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People
Going ahead, the government must secure inclusive response and mitigation not just in the present crisis, but also in any subsequent wave that may well hit us sooner than we think, adds Arman.
States that get it right
One does not have to look very far for these learnings.
- Kerala has ensured that local self-governments are involved in taking special care of persons with disabilities. It has established common kitchens where cooked food is served, while dry rations are provided to those who cannot reach these common kitchens. It has released pension dues but has also made advance payments to help disabled people cope with this challenge. Students with disabilities are being given ₹ 5,000 as ex gratia payment.
- Tamil Nadu has launched a helpline for persons with disabilities catering to people from state to district levels. Indian sign language interpreters are also available. Doorstep medical service such as fixing/changing catheters has been enabled by the Tamil Nadu State Disability Commissioner. Doorstep personal physical therapy has also been enabled.
- Nagaland brings out a daily video briefing on the COVID-19 status in the state which includes Indian sign language interpretation. A helpline for people with disabilities has been set up with the Disability Commissioner’s initiative. A separate number for WhatsApp video calls is up for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
- In Assam, under the directive of the State Disability Commissioner, the State Disaster Management Authority has created videos with information on COVID-19 with Indian sign language interpretation and subtitles.
Since the lockdown was announced under the directions of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DiDRR) Guidelines should come into play to protect the rights and reduce risk among people with disabilities. The guidelines deal with all stages of disaster risk reduction.
“As the key ministry in the NDMA, the Ministry of Home Affairs plays a key role in ensuring that the DePWD initiatives are followed”, says the report. “The NDMA also has the power to direct the various ministries to perform necessary functions to ensure a coordinated and effective response to any disaster”.
Inclusion needed going ahead
The DiDRR Guidelines adopt appropriate inclusive approaches and strategies to “Build Back Better”, a holistic concept using post-disaster reconstruction and recovery as an opportunity to improve a community’s physical, social, environmental and economic conditions to create a more resilient community.
“Crises and disasters have often proved a crucible for positive transformation,” says Arman. “This is also a good opportunity for the country to Build Back Better, to ensure that people with disabilities are not left in the lurch in any future disaster. It is only when we are inclusive, and determined to Build Back Better, that we will be truly ‘Atmanirbhar’”.
*Names changed upon request
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