Interns’ Corner | Hurdles Faced by People With Disabilities in India During Covid-19

IDIA

“Disabled people are not only the most deprived human beings in the developing world, they also are the most neglected”.

-Amartya Sen[1]

As the world grapples with the Covid-19 crisis, some lives are at more risk than the others. While most of us are able to traverse our way through the lockdown, hoping for things to return to normality, others are struggling to take care of their essential needs.snippe It is becoming extremely difficult for them to navigate through the times of physical distancing and lockdown.

 

DIFFICULTIES FACED BY PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Having a disability negates the possibility of maintaining physical distancing in many cases. Some people with disabilities may need to rely on the support of others and touch functions (such as in case of people with visual impairment) to carry out their daily activities.

People with disabilities and aged people also struggle without their caregivers. Moreover, obtaining essentials during the lockdown are especially burdening for them. Though the government policy provides exemptions to caregivers, there was no proper protocol put in place to implement the same.

Disability rights activist, Ms. Virali Modi, called out the authorities to respond to their needs in the lockdown via Twitter. In response to this, the Mumbai police  issued a travel pass to her driver and caregiver.[2] It is commendable that the authorities listened to her needs, but this is an isolated incident which was noticed. There are thousands of others who are in similar circumstances as Ms. Modi, but are not able to get their voice heard. Besides, a person with disability should not have to use their social capital for getting a travel pass, etcetera. These are their basic rights as their very survival depends on them during a pandemic. Scattered goodwill gestures, without a robust policy in place, is a bigger hassle as it represses the actual problem.

If a person with disability needs to go to a medical facility, the healthcare centres that are already at 50% strength and flooded with COVID-19 patients, do not have the resources to cater effectively with the patients with disabilities. Moreover, it is difficult for their caretakers to be with them in the hospitals during the lockdown.

Those with mental health disorders do not have access to regular therapy. While online counseling platforms and telemedicine have opened up, they do not generate the same trust and effectiveness that people shared with their routine counsellors. People with autism spectrum disorders face a lot of difficulty as any disruption in their daily routine has a severe impact on their health and mental well-being.

The situation is graver in psychiatric facilities as there are limited health workers available. They are dealing with a large number of patients on a daily basis. With the Government abysmally failing to provide transportation facilities to migrant workers wanting to travel back home safely, it seems highly unlikely that it will even come to think of the needs of the disabled during these times.

A New York Times article recalls an incident: “As a group of men and boys, some disabled and hobbling on makeshift crutches, walked along the highway toward the soup kitchen, police officers suddenly began beating them with bamboo sticks. “Maintain social distance!” they yelled.”[3]

 

GOVERNMENT MEASURES

While the Disability Affairs’ website of the Government has brought out a comprehensive report on the disability policies during the COVID-19 pandemic[4], there was little effect and implementation on the ground. The government should closely monitor its implementation and it should sensitise the people in administration towards the needs of people with disabilities.

The Government is also providing assistance through the National Social Assistance Program (NSAP), which provides pension to elderly, widows and people with disabilities. It is supposed to provide three months’ pension in advance to aid people during these troubled times.[5] This would amount to Rs. 1000 for 3 months. This has said to be grossly unfair amount which does not respect the need of the community.

Apart from being highly deplorable, it’s also allegedly unlawful as it states that only those who are above 18 years of age and have 80% disability, would fall in the national BPL list.[6] According to Hemant Bhai Goyal, the National Vice President, Divyang Adhikar Mahasangh in Rajasthan,[7] it violates Sub-section 3C of Section 24 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which says that even people with 40% disability are eligible for government assistance during the time of disasters, natural or man-made.”[8] “This is as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well.”[9]

 

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS AND THE WAY AHEAD

There is a need to create mechanisms for door-to-door delivery of  essential supplies for people who are unable to venture out on their homes due to various disabilities. The Government should also open a portal where those with a disability can verify their disability online, and obtain a travel pass for their caretakers. The travel pass should be available online with a barcode to check its authenticity by authorities when they are traveling. [10]

Furthermore, health care workers at quarantine centres should be trained to assist those with physical and mental disabilities as well as the buildings where health care facilities are being provided should be made wheelchair accessible. Also, COVID-19 public announcements should also be communicated effectively in sign language and health workers should be provided with special transparent masks to facilitate lip reading for the deaf and mute.[11]

It is worth noting that the government is currently providing unique cards for persons with disability which can be generated online. This will help people with disabilities to avail the government schemes, which could be a huge relief especially in such trying times. The unique ID website can be accessed through http://www.swavlambancard.gov.in/.

Although, pandemic has been especially tough for people with disabilities, there is a silver lining to the cloud. With everyone working from home, employers are recognizing that physical presence in offices is not essential for tasks to be accomplished. This has led to a spur in virtual jobs all over the world, therefore one may believe that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Work from home is a lot more accessible to many of the people with disabilities.

The pandemic has exposed to the world a broken system of governance and administration. It is time that the government and citizens emphasize on the needs of inclusive and accessible policies and structures.

 

This article has been authored by Vedika Kakar, a BBA-LLB student from Jindal Law School. She has a keen interest in working for upliftment of people and has worked in NGOs like Amnesty and Haq. She interned at IDIA.

 

[1] The Hindu, 2020. Covid-19: Implications for the disabled. [online] Available at: <https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/covid-19-implications-for-the-disabled/article31250730.ece> [Accessed 21 April 2020].

[2] DNA India. 2020. Mumbai Police’s Gesture For Disabled Women During Coronavirus Lockdown Is Winning The Internet. [online] Available at: <https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-mumbai-police-s-gesture-for-disabled-women-during-coronavirus-lockdown-is-winning-the-internet-2818540> [Accessed 21 April 2020].

[3] India’s Coronavirus Lockdown Leaves Vast Numbers Stranded and Hungry, 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/29/world/asia/coronavirus-india-migrants.html> [Accessed 21 April 2020].

[4]Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability. 2020. “Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines For Protection And Safety Of Persons With Disabilities (Divyangjan) During COVID 19.”. <http://disabilityaffairs.gov.in/content/page/whats-new.php>[Accessed 21 April 2020].

[5] The Hindu, 2020. Covid-19: Implications for the disabled. [online] Available at: <https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/covid-19-implications-for-the-disabled/article31250730.ece> [Accessed 21 April 2020].

[6] The Times of India. 2020. Divyang Mahasangh Seeks Aid From Centre For Those With 40% Disability | Jaipur News – Times Of India. [online] Available at: <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/divyang-mahasangh-seeks-aid-from-centre-for-those-with-40-disability/articleshow/75227432.cms> [Accessed 30 April 2020].

[7] Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes towards Disability. 2020. Grant Equal Relief To People Of All Disabilities During COVID-19, Demand Groups – Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes Towards Disability. [online] Available at: <https://newzhook.com/story/covid-19-ex-gratia-disabled-disability-hemantbhai-goyal-accessibility/> [Accessed 29 April 2020].

[8] Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes towards Disability. 2020. Grant Equal Relief To People Of All Disabilities During COVID-19, Demand Groups – Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes Towards Disability. [online] Available at: <https://newzhook.com/story/covid-19-ex-gratia-disabled-disability-hemantbhai-goyal-accessibility/> [Accessed 29 April 2020].

[9] Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes towards Disability. 2020. Grant Equal Relief To People Of All Disabilities During COVID-19, Demand Groups – Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes Towards Disability. [online] Available at: <https://newzhook.com/story/covid-19-ex-gratia-disabled-disability-hemantbhai-goyal-accessibility/> [Accessed 29 April 2020].

[10] Unfortunately, despite being the most reasonable solution, it will still be of little utility as several people with disabilities do not have a disability certificate or are unable to access the internet.

[11] Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes towards Disability. 2020. Disability-Inclusive Guidelines For COVID-19 Lockdown Poorly Implemented In UP – Newz Hook – Changing Attitudes Towards Disability. [online] Available at: <https://newzhook.com/story/disability-inclusive-guidelines-disabled-uttar-pradesh-india-depwd/> [Accessed 30 April 2020].

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