When Misty Jan was blinded by smallpox, her husband remarried and left her to fend for herself and her little daughter.
To support both of them, for many years, she toiled as a domestic worker with nominal wage.
In her words, "People did not want to hire me because of my visual disability. They never treated me with respect, or dignity. There were many days when my daughter and I had nothing to eat."
Now, at the age of 75, Misty Jan earns her livelihood from begging on "haatbar" (weekly market days).
But such markets are now closed and she no longer has any income.
She said, "I have heard of the coronavirus, but I do not know what it is. Every day I need to go out and look for food, this situation has put me in great difficulty."
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), about 15 percent of Bangladesh's total population is disabled and because of their disabilities, they are more likely to be infected than others.
The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 calls for making cities and human settlements "inclusive, safe, and resilient."
To realise this goal, authorities need to provide safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems to all; and improve road safety, notably by expanding public transports, with special attention to the needs of those who are disabled and poor.
Bridge Foundation, a non-government organisation, conducted a survey to find out how aware persons with disabilities (PWDs) are about the Covid-19 pandemic.
The survey included 72.2 percent male and 18.6 percent female PWDs from all sectors of Bangladesh.
Among them, 2.8 percent have visual disabilities, 45.2 percent have speech and hearing disabilities, 2.8 percent have intellectual disabilities and 49.3 percent have physical disabilities.
28.4 percent of respondents did not know anything about the coronavirus. Most of them have speech and hearing disabilities and cannot fully communicate with others.
Some people with speech and hearing disabilities can engage in daily communication through sign language but till now, there are no accessible devices or software in the country to enhance communication for them.
As a result, many words remain incomprehensible and it is difficult for those with speech and hearing disabilities to understand things such as the on-going pandemic.
According to the survey, 47 percent of persons with disabilities are the sole earners in their families. Due to the shutdown, the income of 61.6 percent of functional persons with disabilities decreased.
Md Firoj Uddin, an activist on rights and laws of PWDs and apprentice lawyer of Bangladesh Supreme Court said that persons with disabilities in Bangladesh are regularly subjected to discrimination and they suffer greatly. Many of them could not get reliefs because they could not stand in queues or compete with crowds.
To mitigate these problems, government and non-government entities need to design plans and programmes specifically for PWDs.
According to the Rights and Protection of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013, the government has to address the needs of PWDs.
Persons with disabilities need relief and assistant, special health care services as well as mental health support.
The survey revealed some necessary information that could help to solve the problems of persons with disabilities (PWDs) during this outbreak. Following points could be recommended to deal with the situation:
-Those who have not yet been identified through the Disability Identification Survey, 2012, should be identified in each division, district, Upazila (Thana), union, and ward based on their disabilities. Priority should be given to disabled women and children.
-Separate arrangements for PWDs should be ensured in every health care centre and hospital. Extra attention should be given to PWDs who are infected with Covid-19 or have similar symptoms.
-Besides distributing disability allowances, the government should ensure financial grants for PWDs and increase the existing allowances.
-Masks, gloves, and hand sanitisers should be distributed for free to disabled citizens and those who can work, should be included in sales and distribution.
-While disseminating information on Covid-19, government and non-government entities should ensure that they are available in sign language and Braille.
-Counselling should be made available for PWDs to reduce their anxiety and stress during the pandemic.
-In order to break the monotony of staying indoors, various skill-enhancing and educational courses can be introduced online for PWDs.
The awareness campaigns on prevention and treatment of Covid-19 could reach people with non-disabilities in a normal way, but they have not fully reached those with speech, hearing and visual disabilities.
It is essential to implement social security services for coronavirus patients with disabilities.
In this crisis, a disabled person, who is helpless and distressed, needs access to health care, financial assistance, and clean, safe accommodation.
For most of their lives, persons with disabilities are usually forced to stay at home despite having work capabilities.
According to the survey, 53.7 percent of women with disabilities are unemployed at the moment, but they have the skills to work.
But this pandemic has taught us how to get things done from home, which means that disabled people can work while staying indoors.
The participation of persons with disabilities is essential to sustain economic growth. If all of us can come together, the strength of our unity will help us to build a better Bangladesh.
The author is co-founder and vice president, Bridge Foundation