Consider UN suggestions for protecting disabled community during coronavirus, urge experts
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has raised specific concerns about the poor lack of support and protection to the disabled community during the coronavirus or COVID-19 epidemic. Disability rights experts in India have forwarded the letter to health authorities urging them to pay heed.
“People with disabilities feel they have been left behind. Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others..This support is basic for their survival, and States must take additional social protection measures to guarantee the continuity of support in a safe manner throughout the crisis.”
These words by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas, have never resonated louder in India. The exclusion of people with disabilities from the action plans announced by the Centre for tackling the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak will have alarming consequences, warn disability rights experts.
Disabled people at higher risk due to coronavirus
In her letter, which is posted on the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Devandas says that persons with disabilities deserve to be reassured that their survival is a priority. She has for clear protocols for public health emergencies to be established. This is to ensure that, when medical resources are scarce, access to healthcare, including live-saving measures, do not discriminate against people with disabilities. “To face the pandemic, it is crucial that information about how to prevent and contain the coronavirus is accessible to everyone”, she explains.
The letter has been forwarded to the Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan as well as officials in the Health Ministry by T D Dhariyal, Former State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, GNCTD, who is now with CBM India Trust. In the letter, Mr Dhariyal says:
Concerned persons in India have suggested appropriate measures and accommodations in respect of diverse disabilities, which should be considered on priority. Some organisations/ individuals have already taken positive actions. For example, videos of advisories in sign language have been circulated. The concerned authorities in the country may kindly take appropriate measures (accessible) to ensure that specific needs of persons with disabilities are kept in view so that they receive protection on equal basis with others and are not left behind. – T D Dhariyal, Advisor, Disability, CBM India Trust
Barring the government of Kerala which has made available sign language videos on coronavirus protection measures, there has been no initiative taken by the Centre. This is dangerous, warns disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh, who is also the founder of the pan-India group Doctors with Disabilities.
Awareness measures inaccessible to India’s disabled community
“There is certainly awareness but in non-accessible formats. Important press briefings from the Ministry of Health are without sign language interpreters. Deaf people can’t access 24×7 helpline and most of the websites are still not W3CAG compliant hampering visually impaired readers. If a caregiver is quarantined, the disabled person can be at great disadvantage as many of the districts have still not set up High Support Need boards mandated under the RPWD Act 2016”.
Dr Singh has urged health authorities to address this gap by working in partnership with the disability sector. Doctors with Disabilities is collaborating with disability sector to frame general guidelines for the disabled community, health professionals with disabilities as well as people with disabilities specified under RPWD Act. “We seek the support of MoHFW and Department of Health, GNCTD to support our endeavour. Only by involving the world’s largest minority (people with disabilities) can we hope to win this war”.
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