30 June, 2020
10 Min Read
A new era of accessibility: on persons with disabilities in the post-COVID world
By , Shubha Nagesh works with The Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun; Sara Rotenberg is a graduate of Georgetown University and Rhodes Scholar-elect based in Toronto. Views are personal
# During the lockdown, a father, left with no choice but to steal a bicycle, transported his disabled son from rural Rajasthan to Uttar Pradesh. A professor and wheelchair user in West Bengal, with no means of transport, has no access to medical care during this period, even in an emergency.
# In the wake of the pandemic and the lockdown, the already arduous quest for health, safety, and security for many has been exacerbated by a lack of accessibility.
Impact of the crisis
# The pandemic reveals how exacerbated inequities have become, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
# In India, a study, “Locked Down and Left Behind,” documents the plight of persons with disabilities during this crisis.
# Of the 1,067 respondents, 73% are facing severe challenges, namely with financial stability, access to essential items, adequate accommodation, and availability of healthcare.
# Second, thousands of families lack access to critical care takers and domestic help, who play crucial roles in caring for a child or family member with a disability.
# Finally, there are significant impacts on the well-being of persons with disabilities. In particular, social isolation and limited access to accessible, adequate sanitation or isolation facilities threaten the health and safety of this already vulnerable population.
# We have seen parents and families taking on herculean tasks to deliver interventions and therapies for their children, with telephone support from therapists or other support workers.
# However, underlying these efforts to address the impact of the pandemic at a community level is the fundamental challenge of accessibility.
# Persons with disabilities already struggle for equitable access to education, healthcare, transportation, and economic opportunities. The pandemic has further decreased access to these basic services and rights.
# The pandemic simultaneously presents an unprecedented challenge and an opportunity to change the course of accessibility in low- and middle-income countries in the post-pandemic world.
# In low- and middle-income countries that have battled pressing challenges (mass migration, concurrent infections like TB, limited health infrastructure, etc.), COVID-19 recovery plans include investments in urban planning, health facilities, and social spaces. If accessibility is considered, these efforts can catalyse the vision of an inclusive world.
Filling the gaps
# To address this growing fissure between the accessible and non-accessible world, the international community will have to close some of the gaps and blunt some of the edges by building accessibility across all sectors.
# Such efforts must engage people to promote education and awareness on including persons with disabilities; implementing accessibility laws and regulations; improving physical accessibility and universal design; reducing stigma; and developing the tools for individuals and communities to engage meaningfully with persons with disabilities.
# Ultimately, one of the key ways to achieve this is to begin including and involving persons with disabilities in decision and policymaking, for COVID-19 recovery and beyond, which can ensure representation on the matters that govern their lives.
# There is rarely an opportunity where policymakers have an ability to change the physical and social world drastically.
# Using this moment to implement universal accessibility should be central to the vision of the post-COVID era.
# Accessibility is a vital human right, and an accessible post-COVID world is one that will deliver justice to the minority population, without whom the path towards Sustainable Development Goals realisation and universal health coverage will remain a distant goal.
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