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Protect the rights of persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic
by International Disability Alliance, agencies
12:42pm 2nd Dec, 2020
Nov. 2020
Catastrophic global failure to protect the rights of persons with disabilities highlighted in critical report - International Disability Alliance
A coalition of seven global disability rights organisations have today called for urgent action by States and the international community to halt the catastrophic failure to protect the lives, health, and rights of persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report entitled ‘Disability rights during the pandemic: A global report on findings of the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor’ presents the findings from a rapid global survey of persons with disabilities and other stakeholders which took place between April and August of this year.
The organisations behind the study seek to “catalyse urgent action in the weeks and months to come,” as transmission rates continue to rise in many countries and persons with disabilities are again subjected to restrictions which have already had severe consequences.
The report analyses over 2,100 responses to the survey from 134 countries around the world. The vast majority of responses were from individuals with disabilities and their family members. Very few governments or independent monitoring institutions responded.
“The government announced the stay at home order and lockdown, but could not think of poor daily wage earners who are not getting even a meal a day. People are deprived of food and are in financial crisis and the government has not provided any benefits” A person with disabilities, Nepal
“People in institutions are not receiving adequate assistance or access to medical supplies. Staffing is insufficient and at dangerous levels” A female with disabilities, United States
“Children (with disabilities) and their parents are still in the street with no face masks, no social distancing. Their lives are in danger” Organisation of persons with disabilities, Nigeria
The report highlights four major themes from the survey data:
The egregious failure to protect the lives of persons with disabilities in residential institutions, which have become hotspots during the pandemic: Instead of prioritising emergency measures to reintegrate people into the community, respondents pointed out that many institutions have been locked down, with fatal consequences.
Widespread, rigid shutdowns that caused a dramatic breakdown in essential services in the community: Persons with disabilities could not access basic goods, including food, and supports such as personal assistance. Strict lockdown enforcement by police and security forces has sometimes led to tragic results, including the deaths of persons with disabilities.
Serious and multiple human rights violations against underrepresented populations of persons with disabilities: Women and girls have experienced a major uptick in gender based violence, children with disabilities have been denied access to online education, and homeless persons with disabilities have either been rounded up and detained or left to fend for themselves.
A concerning trend of denying basic and emergency healthcare, including discriminatory triage procedures: In some cases, persons with disabilities were directly denied access to treatment for COVID-19 because of their disability.
The over 3,000 testimonies collected by the survey provide ample evidence of widespread failures by States to adopt disability-inclusive responses. The testimonies point to a collective failure of leadership across many countries, regardless of their level of economic development.
Evidence included in the report is essential reading for law and policymakers, health and social care professionals, law enforcement, civil society, and others seeking to ensure that persons with disabilities are no longer sacrificed in efforts to contain the pandemic.
“From what I know, children in institutions are strictly confined, can no longer have contact with their families. They are really imprisoned while the providers bring the virus. Very important mental consequences” A person with disabilities, Belgium
“Irrespective of disabilities, persons on streets are picked up and put into shelters. These provide basic survival supports to all people housed there. This has great implications for persons with psychosocial disabilities, who have been experiencing homelessness but free and living at will on streets – to be institutionalized” Organisation of persons with disabilities, India
“We have been forgotten about” A female with disabilities, New Zealand
International Day of Persons with Disabilities (OHCHR)
Danlami Basharu, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:
"The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the precarious nature of the gains made in the past two decades by and for persons with disabilities. States must work to mitigate its immediate and short-term effects and also plan better for future crises to make sure that no one is left behind in reality.
One obvious learning from the past few months is the conspicuous lack of consultation with people with disabilities, their representative organisations and human rights defenders with disabilities, in shaping the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Problems that were wholly predictable were missed and this negatively affected both the legitimacy of immediate responses and their effectiveness."
Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities:
"The COVID-19 pandemic highlights that protection, response and recovery efforts will not be effective unless everyone is equally valued and included. Only through the adoption of a human rights approach will we achieve equitable, sustainable and resilient societies. This includes, among others, the recognition of education as an essential element to empower persons with disabilities and to integrate them into their communities socially and politically.
Innovation is needed to replace fragile support systems with an assurance of continuity during crises. The future cannot be like the past, and that is what 'building back better' should be all about."
María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility:
"Another obvious learning has to do with improving the accessibility and availability of relevant information and communications to those most at risk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we also experienced the extreme fragility of support systems for persons with disabilities, as well as other community support services.
The multidimensional poverty and marginalization caused was obvious: extreme isolation, lack of access to basic services, including food and medicine, an enhanced risk of violence against women and girls with disabilities in the home, and even homelessness. It had a disproportionate impact on women and girls with disabilities and on older persons with disabilities."
June 2020
Statement on COVID-19 and the human rights of persons with disabilities
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expresses its grave concern at the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has not been comprehensively implemented by States Parties. It has starkly exposed the heightened vulnerability and risks to persons with disabilities that is underpinned by entrenched discrimination and inequality.
Persons with disabilities are often wrongly perceived to be inherently vulnerable, when it is attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that result in situations of vulnerability. While many persons with disabilities have health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19, pre-existing discrimination and inequality means that persons with disabilities are one of the most excluded groups in terms of health prevention and response actions and economic and social support measures, and among the hardest hit in terms of transmission risk and actual fatalities.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights that protection, response and recovery efforts will not be effective unless everyone is equally valued and included. Critical and urgent action is required to ensure that those most at risk, including persons with disabilities are explicitly included in public emergency planning and health response and recovery efforts.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities outlines the normative legal standards to address discrimination and inequality, and these standards need to be integral to COVID-19 protection, response and recovery measures.
A human rights approach is critical to response and recovery efforts not only in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to ensure that States take action now to build equitable, sustainable and resilient societies that have the mechanisms to prevent and respond rapidly to future public health emergencies and to ensure that ‘no-one is left behind’.
# World Health Organization: Over a billion people, about 15% of the world's population, have some form of disability. The number of people with disability are dramatically increasing. This is due to demographic trends and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes. Almost everyone is likely to experience some form of disability ─ temporary or permanent ─ at some point in life.
People with disability have less access to health care services and therefore experience unmet health care needs. If health services for people with disability exist, they are invariably of poor quality or under resourced.

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