New Delhi: Financial difficulties, lack of access to essential services and little to no assistance from the government are some of the difficulties that persons with disabilities have been facing during the Covid-19 lockdown, notes a report by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP).
The researchers interviewed 1,067 (approximately 73 per cent male and 27 percent female) persons with disabilities across the country and found that 73 per cent of the respondents were facing severe challenges due to the lockdown imposed on 24 March to arrest the spread of Covid-19.
The study, titled ‘Locked Down and Left Behind — Status of Persons with Disabilities in India during the during the Covid-19 crisis’, notes that the biggest issue plaguing them is financial difficulties. Nearly 57 per cent of the respondents did not have adequate money at their disposal due to employment difficulties.
Among the rest, 13 per cent found it difficult to access essential items like food, clothing and shelter, while 9 per cent could not access healthcare and medical aid.
The NCPEDP researchers also conducted telephonic interviews with 201 individuals out of the respondent pool, to get more details about the challenges faced. Of these, 67 per cent had no access to to doorstep delivery of essentials. While 48 per cent said they had no access to a government helpline, and 63 per cent had not received the financial assistance for persons with disabilities announced by the Finance Ministry.
According to the report, the 201 respondents were “selected on a stratified random sampling basis so as to cover different geographical areas from among those who had expressed that they were undergoing particular challenges”.
A survey respondent who did not wish to be named said, “As a deaf person, I have no access to correct and up to date information about Covid-19 in (Indian) sign language. When using a mask, others find it difficult to understand what I am signing, so I have to remove the mask again and again, which puts me at risk.”
Access to health care severely restricted
One of the major problems that persons with disabilities faced, and continue to face during the Covid-19 lockdown, is access to health care services and getting their health tests done at home.
The report also notes that the blood supply in banks dropped by nearly 50 per cent because of the lockdown, making blood transfusions extremely difficult. This puts those dependent on these transfusions, especially individuals suffering from the blood disorder thalassemia, at great risk.
Access to pain killers, other essential medicines and catheters, have also been severely restricted.
People with severe disabilities requiring diapers, catheters, urine bags, disposable sheets etc were unable to procure any of these items due to the lack of funds, and the inability to get them oneself or through the help of someone else.
The report alarmingly also highlights that people with intellectual disabilities had been confined to their homes in a “prison like condition” during the lockdown.
In the midst of all this, the respondents said that the government provided no help to relieve them of their troubles.
A respondent Santosh (name changed) who lives in a remote area said he did not receive any relief announced by the government because “the government grassroots worker does not want to come to such a remote area.”
Another respondent Pradeep was told to ask his neighbour for help when he dialled the emergency 112 number to get medical necessities such as urobag, catheter and clean intermittent catheterisation pipes.
A separate hotline for persons with disabilities needed
The NCPEDP report puts forth two major recommendations to alleviate the situation for persons with disability during the lockdown.
One is to adopt and implement the Central Government’s Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities guidelines along with the guidelines of Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction.
It also recommends giving special priority to persons with disabilities. Their caregivers should be given a separate pass to ensure mobility within lockdown restrictions. A separate centralised helpline should also be set up, with video call facilities and Indian sign language interpretation. It also asks for the provision of doorstep consultations for persons with disabilities.
In its report NCPEDP says to be truly ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant), it was important to “include and build back better”.