COVID-19 hits people with disabilities hard worldwide - Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development

man in wheelchair tries to wash his hands at a high sink

Published on: September 24, 2020

The COVID-19 approach calls for international solidarity between countries and between population groups. DCDD endorses Partos’ statement: “Corona makes inequality mercilessly visible and reinforces it. That is why we and our members believe that in the international fight against the coronavirus, attention for the most vulnerable should come first. In addition, we must ensure that the measures do not work against people and increase existing inequalities.” For effective protection of groups at risk and society as a whole, it is essential that people with disabilities participate in policy-making.

Impact on fundamental freedoms and participation
People with a disability (15% to 20% of the population) are hit hard by the corona situation. Not only because many of them belong to the risk group for a serious course of the disease in case of infection. They are also at greater risk of contamination because protective measures are inadequate (e.g. inaccessible information, water pumps or taps inaccessible for washing hands, dependence on caregivers who do not have masks, etc). They are also hit hard by measures such as “social distancing” and lockdowns: reduced access to medication, therapy, education, work and food is driving people to despair. There are signs of increased (police) violence against people with disabilities who are unable to comply with the measures, including torture and murder. There are also signs of people taking their lives out of desperation. International disability and human rights organizations have joined forces to set up a “COVID 19 Disability Rights Monitor” to monitor and highlight these signals.

An essential part of the problem is that (representative organizations of) people with disabilities are not involved in policy-making and information campaigns about COVID-19. Despite the fact that the measures directly concern them as a risk group, in almost no country there is active participation of people with disabilities in the COVID response teams. It is only through lobby and advocacy that they sometimes manage to influence policy. Such lobbying is often more difficult to mobilize in the current situation.

COVID-19 response from DCDD participants
Disability organizations worldwide (including DCDD participants) have been working hard since the outbreak of COVID-19 to make educational materials accessible and to provide basic needs for people with disabilities and their families, such as water and food. COVID-proof livelihood initiatives have also been set up, in which people with disabilities make and sell soap, for example.

Partners who implemented programs for inclusive education and rehabilitation before COVID are very concerned about the impact of the COVID measures on the development of children with disabilities. Not only do they miss physiotherapy, for example, it is also uncertain whether they will be able to return to school after the crisis. Where possible, partners try to remotely train parents and relatives to do exercises with the children. However, all in all, this means a decline in inclusion; where progress has been made in recent years.

Disability organizations are often not humanitarian aid organizations and despite the fact that they do provide crucial emergency aid in this situation, they have virtually no access to emergency relief funds. This also applies to Minister Kaag’s emergency relief fund. Moreover, it is not made clear how the COVID approach of Minister Kaag is reached people from the most vulnerable groups (the recent letter to the parliament did not answer the motion of Van den Hul and Van den Nieuwenhuijzen in this regard).

Opportunities (‘building back better’) for and by civil society / possible role NL
Many development and emergency relief programs are known to be inaccessible to people with disabilities, as a recent study by Development Initiatives shows. The same study shows that three quarters of the “disability inclusive aid” goes through (international) NGOs, compared to 9% through (donor) governments. At this point, people with disabilities are still best reached through disability organizations. These organizations also have relevant experience in combating infectious diseases, such as leprosy, and in combating stigmatization. It is therefore very important that they are actively involved in policy and programs, to ensure that both the COVID response and the post-COVID society are more inclusive.

Concrete opportunities for ‘building back better’ lie, for example, in digitalization, which should take into account accessibility guidelines, so that people with visual, auditory and mental disabilities can also benefit from this. Home education and work offers opportunities for some people (with reduced mobility), but creates additional barriers for others. Small entrepreneurs with a disability can be helped to make their business model more COVID-proof. It is very important that the Netherlands is more committed to good health care internationally and that it pays more attention to the inclusion of people with disabilities in its programs for humanitarian aid, education, social security and food security.

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