Covid-19 crisis is exacerbating pre-existing disparities, revealing the scale of exclusion, and emphasising the importance of disability inclusion work. Persons with disabilities are one of the most disadvantaged groups and have been hit especially hard by the crisis.
Even under normal circumstances, these groups of people have less access to physical and mental healthcare, schooling, jobs, and community participation. Most of them are poor, suffer from increased crime, negligence, and corruption, and are among the most vulnerable in any society impacted by a crisis.
Inclusion of these marginalised communities can address their long-term problems and engage them in a productive workstream and thus provide an adaptive yet implementable recovery plan for the larger community.
Recovery plans and interventions for different sectors
The socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic control measures are particularly disadvantaged persons with disabilities. The short-term and far-reaching consequences for these people can worsen due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, this can be tackled and persons with disabilities can be transformed into effective human resources in various humanitarian and emergency contexts and risky environments at the same time.
Employment: Social protection systems in most countries provide little support for persons with disabilities with minimum access to social insurance. Only 28% of persons with disabilities worldwide and only 1% in low-income countries have access to disability benefits. These groups of people are having greater difficulty by losing their job already in the event of exclusion from employment. The increasing demand for domestic work especially unpaid and lower salary during the pandemic has worsened existing inequalities that can exacerbate persons with disabilities and older women.
Hence, for implementing a Covid-19 responsive recovery and intervention plan, accessibility must respond to employment and changing working conditions. Persons with disabilities who continue to work, whether or not essential workers, may require particular protection or modifications to maintain a safe condition during the pandemic.
Employers and jobs must always be able to offer friendly environments and reasonable adjustments to workplaces based on customised needs. Persons with disabilities who are engaged in an informal economy may need incentives and special assistance to continue their jobs.
Education: Although reliable figures for students with disabilities remain unavailable, their exclusion from education will probably have been aggravated by the current crisis. Students with disabilities will least benefit from solutions for distance learning. This becomes even more critical when students with disabilities have less access to the internet, necessary software and learning material.
Disruption of skills and training programmes can have a far-reaching effect on young people with disabilities who face a host of obstacles to their entry into the workforce. Hence, education for persons with disabilities is one of the key sectors for exercising the Covid-19 recovery plans.
Support services: Access to support services is extremely crucial for persons with disabilities to lead a healthy and secured life. The efforts to control Covid-19 resulted in major disturbances to different support services and networks such as personal assistance, tactile interpretation, sign language, and psychosocial assistance. During and after the pandemic these people need to be brought under a special and safe support system when the fallen economy may further cut the current support services.
Changing outlook to violence: It is well documented that in the middle of lockdown measures, domestic violence has increased substantially, having a special effect on women with disabilities. As both female children and adults with disabilities are more prone to be victimised than their regular peers. Female persons with disabilities community face increased discrimination in communities. Intervention programmes need to be in place to address this.
Delivery mechanism for social protection: The government should expand social protection and adapt delivery mechanisms to provide relief support to persons with disabilities. In this regard, the government can increase disability benefits, extend coverage for persons with disabilities who are registered but not eligible, and provide disability subsidies for recipients of regular social support schemes, including other members of the family who must stop working to gain from disability assistance.
Role of the governments and mainstream actors
It is crucial to engage persons with disabilities in a meaningful way which may be started by local and national level governments to build an inclusive and resilient action plan. While supporting local initiatives, mainstream actors such as UN bodies, donor partners, and organisations for civil society should promote, incentivise, and supervise the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Additionally, the governments and mainstream actors can initiate the following programmes:
Record and track inclusion of persons with disabilities in national recovery plans: Inclusion of disability should be made a criterion for recording and tracking all Covid-19 strategies and actions.
Build sustainable and disability-inclusive social protection systems: Additional costs relating to disability should be compatible with employment and social assistance schemes through a universal disability allowance.
Investment in community solution: Special attention should be paid to persons with disabilities, and funds should be used to speed up deinstitutionalisation policies and transition to community-based solutions. This includes local investment in education, primary health and rehabilitation as key pillars in achieving the SDG.
Multi-stakeholder dialogue and collaboration: To address the multifarious nature of disability, inter-sectoral connection and response are necessary. All the actors – the government, UN bodies, the private sector, organisations of persons with disabilities, and a broader civil society – should be brought together.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a ripple effect in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that demands an unprecedented response – an unprecedented degree of support and shoulder-to-shoulder engagement to ensure access for persons with disabilities to essential crisis services.
In this regard, the government, advocacy partners, and mainstream actors should play the most crucial role in developing a disability Covid-19 response plan that allows more inclusive and accessible systems to reach the farthest background in complex situations.
Sumaiya Noor is a development sector research professional. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.