When tackling a pandemic, disability issues need to be considered

A failure to take into account the circumstances faced by people with a disability has led them to be impacted more deeply by the Covid-19 pandemic than others, the Malta Federation of Organisations Persons with Disability pointed out.

Citing the contributions of European and international organisations, the MFOPD noted that many people with disabilities had underlying conditions which made them more vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly, who are far more likely to have a disability than the general population.

However, it argued that the main reason people with disabilities were at risk was not physical vulnerability, but because governments and authorities had largely forgotten about them.

For instance, social distancing may have negatively affected those who rely on physical contact with support whenever lockdown measures are introduced without exemptions. Additionally, information may be inaccessible to some people with disabilities.

Ensuring access to services

A key concern for people with disabilities during the pandemic was a lack of access to health services and to other services alike.

 In many countries, residents of residential institutions for persons with disabilities were dying of Covid-19 at dramatic rates amid staff shortages and lack of personal protective equipment. The European Disability Forum argues that community-based care should receive more funding so that persons with disabilities can access the services they need without having to visit health centres.

But regular services – such as therapy and visits from support staff – should not be disturbed either, though they should be delivered in a way that protects staff and people with disabilities alike.

Supporting support organisations

People with disabilities needed to be involved in the response to a pandemic – as well as the recovery process. With this in mind, organisations working with people with disabilities required more funding.

Additionally, data on the pandemic should be disaggregated by age, gender and disability, helping to identify any barriers people with disabilities may experience in accessing support.

According to aid organisation Humanity & Inclusion, such disaggregation was not done during previous outbreaks, and as a consequence, there is a lack of information on what is effective. International organisations such as the UN International Disability Alliance and the International Disability and Development Consortium could be used to help develop more inclusive responses in the future.