Aditya Sen, who handles a recently launched helpline to cater to people with disabilities (PwDs), was signing off after a busy day when his phone rang. It was past 8.30 pm. The number flashing on his mobile screen was familiar, of an NGO partner. On the other end was the frantic voice from a lady who informed that a single mother and her eight-year-old hearing-impaired daughter needed medicines and grocery urgently.
Wasting no time, he called up the woman, who picked up on the first ring. Scared about her daughter, she said, ‘Sir isko high fever ho raha hai aur thodi khaasi bhi hai’ (Sir, my daughter has high fever and has some cough too). Sen, a volunteer with Project Delhi, made a few calls and within an hour, the little girl was taken to a hospital for treatment. “We have ensured that the mother and daughter got their stock of groceries too!” read the account online. These a familiar refrain on helplines launched by civil society organisations, central and state governments as well as those teaming up with young non-disabled volunteers to take up the cause of PwDs amid the prevailing coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lockdown measures.
“Many PwDs are primarily struggling to get groceries, medicines,” explained disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra, who is also the co-founder of Project Delhi, which receives close to 30 calls and 20 text messages per day. He added that it becomes “difficult for PwDs” who have mobility issues and high support needs to step out for buying essentials.
Concurred Praveen Kumar G, social inclusion advisor, VSO International, who is visually-impaired, “For blind people in particular, tactile communication and navigation is inevitable, so many people tend to rely on another’s support for purchasing groceries and food essentials.”
Disability rights activist Anjlee Agarwal’s Samarthyam-run helpline ‘COVID-19 Action Collaborative’ is inundated with 140-170 calls/messages per day including through social media. “We have been receiving more calls for issues with e-passes for caregivers, dry ration and food supplies, medicines and some seeking help for regular check-ups at hospitals,” Agarwal, whose organisation’s helpline provides doorstep delivery of essential services with the help of 11 volunteers, told indianexpress.com.
From calls for food to everyday supplies, medicines, the need for blood transfusions and access to hospitals, the helplines have been abuzz. On March 26, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (GOI) issued Disability Inclusive Guidelines to secure the protection and safety of PwDs during this crisis.
Amarjit Singh Anand, president, Chaanan Association for Mentally Retarded Children (Regd), Jalandhar, Punjab told indianexpress.com that as a volunteer organisation, they received “leads” from the district administration of Jalandhar helpline. “All PwDs, widows and senior citizens are being provided services of medicines, kirana or any help they need,” he said, while mentioning that the government-run helpline has 28 non-disabled volunteers.
How do helplines work?
Anand explained that once a call is received on the helpline, it is forwarded to the district coordinator who deputes a volunteer who is close to the needy person. “They then buy the required essentials and deliver against payment as per directives given by our nodal officer and district programme officer,” he said.
However, given the rising numbers of the contagious disease and the issue of e-passes for volunteers, the district administration officials themselves have been rendering the services, stated Anand. He remarked, “The situation is grim and the administration does not want to risk leaving any further damage.”
“My team of eight is working from home and we reach out to the persons concerned through our partners across the country or the government agencies, whatever works in the area. Mostly, people call for ration, medicine, pension money announced by the government and caregiver passes. Also, for information on government orders issued during the lockdown,” commented Arman Ali, executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).
While Ali’s is not a designated helpline number, his colleague and he together receive about 10-15 calls each day pertaining to the Covid-19 crisis. Notably, caregivers, including family members, need passes to collect benefits like ration on behalf of PwDs, which is proving to be a challenge. “Amar (name changed) in Rajkot, (Gujarat) has been instructed to be present in person to receive his rations. Amar is a person with orthopaedic disability and is bedridden. The authorities have refused to hand over the rations to his sister although she stays with him,” claimed Ali. The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare state that “caregivers of PwDs should be allowed to reach PwDs by exempting them from restrictions during lockdown or providing passes in a simplified manner on priority”.
The guidelines for State/District authorities also suggest that “during quarantine, essential support services, personal assistance, and physical and communication accessibility should be ensured e.g. blind persons, persons with intellectual/ mental disability (psycho-social) are dependent on caregiver support. Similarly PwDs may seek assistance for rectification of fault in their wheelchair and other assistive devices.”
Meanwhile, the guidelines also call for 24X7 helpline numbers at the state-level to be set up exclusively for ‘divyangjan’ with facilities of sign language interpretation and video calling. However, Dr Alim Chandani, deaf activist and founder of Access Mantra Foundation asks, “Are the helplines accessible to deaf people?”
As per Dr Chandani, deaf people can’t make phone calls and most are not fluent in English or Hindi to write emails due to the lack of access to education in Indian Sign Language. However, a few state helplines, such as the Tamil Nadu government, are offering video calling and sign language interpretation facility. Dr Chandani mentioned, “We should have deaf individuals to lead the helplines once we have experts providing training to them. Direct communication with deaf is essential and much better.” He further said that National Association of the Deaf India should advocate for it.
“PwDs are present in all 29 states, not just the few that are taking proactive steps. The fundamental right to life and dignity cannot be dispensed with, even in a medical emergency. PwDs are not a homogeneous, distinct group, they are to be found in every strata of society and in every aspect of life and they need to be enabled during this pandemic,” asserted Ali.
Here is a list of helplines
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India’s common helpline numbers are 1075, 011-23978046, 9013151515
While one can access the government helplines here, many organisations and individuals have started with their own helplines.
For essential supplies as well as services like counselling.
Rakesh – +91 995608-74098
Danish – +91 98914-14742
For groceries, Call/WhatsApp – +91 7411167030
For medicines, Call/WhatsApp – +91 801033000
One of the co-founders of Project Delhi, disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra told indianexpress.com that “many PwDs struggling to get groceries, medicines primarily”, which is why there was a need for the helpline.
Executive Director – Anjlee Agarwal
Whats App: +91 9711190806
Phone number – 01141019389
Email address – firstname.lastname@example.org
Viklang Sahara Samiti Delhi
Kapil Kumar Aggarwal
Address:- G-Block Basti Vikas Kender Mangol Puri Delhi-110083
Email : email@example.com
National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)
Call: 73039 44839
ASL Foundation Trust
A-20 LSC Market Mangolpuri Delhi -83
Director – Preeti Gupta
Phone number – 01127911345
Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled
For basic groceries and mask kits
Naveen – +91 94498-64786
Sunil – +91 94498-64691
Big Bazaar and KickStart Cabs are partnering to deliver groceries and vegetables to people’s homes. WhatsApp your grocery list to +91 8105600445.
Free delivery of groceries/packed food/medicines.
For groceries/packed food:
Call – +91-98795 08404. WhatsApp – +91 96533 30712
Call – +91 9992999929
Disabled people in Mumbai who need dialysis can call Ezy Mov at +91 90290 90880
Samavisht Foundation is also providing this service in partnership with Ezy Mov.
The Tamil Nadu government has set up two helplines for disabled people to call with queries and requests for supplies.
Dial toll free at 1800-425-0111.
For WhatsApp and Video Calling: +91 97007-99993. Sign language interpretation facility available.
Free CAB service – Chennai
call: 95000 67082
Sruti Disability Rights Centre
For online/telephonic counselling services for disabled people and caregivers – Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Mental Health Helpline
080 4611 0007
Deaf and hard of hearing people – +91-98881-76357
Youth4Jobs Karuna Helpline for Covid-19 for PwDs in cities
Location Person Mobile timings
Trichy Swathi 9347412609 5pm-7pm
Madurai Rama 9347412613 8am-10am
Ahmednagar Vijay Satdive 7350640303 5pm-7pm
Dehradun Nidhi Rana 8448764159 8pm-10pm
Vijayawada Sayed Saleem 8712721500 5pm-7pm
Tirupati Sikandar 7032777485 5pm-7pm
Warangal Sreevani 7032777497 8am-10am
Guwahati Chayanika 7399069663 8am-10am
Ranchi Siraj Nag 7894300173 8am-10am
Patna Sasanko Roy 7797263537 8am-10am
Bhubaneswar Laxmidhar Jena 8759867477 8am-10am