Considering the numerous challenges that Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) have been facing during lockdown, a recent survey recommends enforcing the March 27, 2020 Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) guidelines for securing financial support to become “truly Atmanirbhar”. As per National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)’s survey, Locked Down and Left Behind – A Report on the Status of PwDs in India during COVID-19 Crisis, “Many of the challenges confronting PwDs during lockdown could have been addressed had the government duly enforced its own directives”.
As per the directives, COVID-19 information in accessible formats, doorstep delivery of essentials, 24×7 helpline number at state level for ‘Divyangjan’ with facilities of sign language interpretation and video calling, among others should be in place.
The report, which comprised approximately 73 per cent males and 27 per cent females, showed that over “73 per cent of those interviewed were facing severe challenges on account of the lockdown”. The report includes a survey of 1,067 respondents and responses from 19 disability sector leaders across states. Interviews with a sub-sample of 201 PwDs from across India showed that 67 per cent had no access to doorstep delivery of essentials, and only 22 per cent confirmed that they have access to essentials. The report also stated that 48 per cent had no access to a government helpline, and 63 per cent had not received the financial assistance for PwDs announced by the Finance Ministry.
Some of the instances mentioned in the report support the survey’s findings. Santosh, who lives in a remote area, did not receive any relief announced by the government because “the government grassroots worker does not want to come to such a remote area”. Pradeep was unable to get medical necessities such as uroba, catheter and CIC pipes, and when he dialed the emergency number 112, they told him to ask his neighbour for help, as per a NCPEDP statement.
“There are more people with disabilities in India than the entire populations of Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, Uruguay and Kuwait. All the might and reach of the government is needed to provide relief to such vast numbers. The government must secure inclusive response and mitigation not just in the present crisis, but also in any subsequent wave that may well hit us sooner than we think,” says Arman Ali, executive director, NCPEDP.
The report states that these and other similar issues could have been taken care of if the ‘Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines’ issued by the Central Government’s DEPwD had been uniformly enforced across India.
The survey takes a cue from the prime minister’s words, “Persons with disabilities are particularly prone to the rigours of disasters. It is our social responsibility to acknowledge and comprehend their needs….and make response mechanisms adequate and inclusive.” The NCPEDP report recommends enforcing the DEPwD Guidelines, securing financial support to all persons with disabilities (not just those with severe disabilities as is being done now), and by implementing the Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DiDRR Guidelines) with its focus on including PwDs and disability organisations to publicly lead and promote universally accessible response, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Notably, when the government announced a nationwide lockdown to combat COVID–19, it did so under the directions of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which is headed by the prime minister. Once the country began functioning in the disaster mode, the DiDRR Guidelines should have come into play to protect the rights and reduce risk among people with disabilities. “Crises and disasters have often proved a crucible for positive transformation,” remarked Ali. He added, “This is also a good opportunity for the country to Build Back Better, to ensure that PwDs are not left in the lurch in any future disaster. It is only when we are inclusive, and determined to Build Back Better, that we will be truly Atmanirbhar.”
As per the NCPEDP report, some states are doing a commendable job. For example:
*Kerala has ensured that local self-governments are involved in taking special care of persons with disabilities. It has established common kitchens where cooked food is served, while dry rations are provided to those who cannot reach these common kitchens. It has not only released pension dues, but has also made advance payments to help disabled people cope with this challenge. Kerala has also ensured that students with disabilities receive Rs 5000 ex-gratia payment.
*The state of Tamil Nadu has launched a helpline for PwDs catering to people from state to district level. Indian sign language interpreters are also available to cater to deaf and hard of hearing persons. Doorstep medical service such as fixing /changing catheters has been enabled by the Tamil Nadu State Disability Commissioner. Doorstep personal physical therapy has also been enabled.
*The Government of Nagaland brings out a daily video briefing on COVID-19 status in the state which includes Indian sign language interpretation. A helpline for people with disabilities was set up on the initiative of the Disability Commissioner. A separate number for WhatsApp video calls was also set up for persons who are deaf/hard of hearing.
*In Assam, under the directive of the State Disability Commissioner, the State Disaster Management Authority has created videos with information on COVID 19 with Indian sign language interpretation and subtitles.