Persons with disabilities number more than 1,000,000 worldwide, with the vast majority living in low- and middle-income countries. Reports from all over the world in the last few weeks have shared a global perspective of angst as this group is facing an added set of risks, consequences, and anxieties in the face of the pandemic.
Having a disability, in itself, does not put persons with disabilities at a higher risk, but the associated chronic conditions could make this illness more dangerous for them, as Andrew Pulrang cites. People with disabilities find it difficult to isolate themselves, particularly those with severe and intellectual disabilities who are dependent on their carers for most of their basic needs. Even simple acts like hand washing can become a great challenge for many with physical impairments, including those who are in wheelchairs. Shopping for essentials, accessing challenging online shopping portals, stocking up on regular medications, finding independence, and so much more becomes more difficult than usual.
In India, persons with disabilities face the same issues, and have less of a voice to be able to sway policies and programming in their favor. Our organization, the Latika Roy Foundation, works for children and young adults with disabilities in the Himalayan state of India. While the centers have been closed for more than a month and services have shifted from centralized, center-based programs to decentralized, home-based services through phone calls and video calls, our staff has been working twice as hard to stay connected with the children and their families. The fact remains that children are facing interruptions to therapy and intervention, and therefore seeing developmental progress. Parents are coping with having their children at home, in isolation, without the usual stimulation and intervention that the centers provided. They report stress as they continue to cope with this new normal and can’t wait for it to end; however, with the cases only beginning to rise in India, we have a long way to go and it is going to be a long, grim summer.
Having said all of the above, it is imperative for countries to invest in people with different abilities and create inclusive systems that keep the most vulnerable in mind. People with different abilities will only increase with time, and we have to steer away from exclusion and discrimination. Instead, we need to move toward an inclusive, hopeful world that accommodates everyone with deliberation. Disability justice is very much needed now — more than ever!