Letter to Commissioner Dalli: COVID-19 – disability inclusive response

Brussels, 13th March 2020

To Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality

Copy to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner Thierry Breton, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner Ylva Johansson, Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, Commisioner Adina Vălean

Dear Commissioner,

I hope this letter finds you, your team, and your family in good health and well-being during this difficult period in Europe.

In the light of the COVID 19 crisis and the important work of the European Commission in enhancing the European response to the crisis, the European Disability Forum would like to draw your attention to the important issue of how Europe’s 100 million persons with disabilities are affected by this public health crisis, and also to share guidelines for ensuring their inclusion in its response, in line with your responsibility for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We have developed recommendations for policy makers, that we present in annex, through discussion with our members, and based on our members’ current work, and priorities.

These recommendations aim to address the range of risks which persons with disabilities face.

Persons with disabilities face the same risk as the rest of the population, compounded by many other issues: disruption of services and support, in some cases, pre-existing health conditions which leave them more at risk of developing serious illness or dying, being excluded from health information and mainstream health provision, living in an inaccessible world where barriers to goods and services are everywhere, being disproportionately more likely to live in institutional settings.

Our members are working in these days and weeks to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities at national level, and your support in ensuring an inclusive European response is appreciated. Please do not hesitate us if you would like further information or you wish to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely,



European Disability Forum


Annex – Recommendations for a disability inclusive COVID 19 response

Making public health communication accessible

Every person has the right to immediate and correct information on the epidemic and the measures they and their families should take. This includes:

  • providing alternative and accessible methods of accessing general information, not only relying on websites (automatic phone lines, videos, leaflets, etc)
  • appropriate sign language interpretation and captioning
  • information provided in plain language and in easy to read format
  • use of fully accessible digital technology
  • ensuring telephone numbers and other direct channels providing public health information are fully accessible, including relay services for deaf and hard of hearing people
  • ensuring emergency numbers (both 112 and specific phone numbers set up for this pandemic) are fully accessible, including relay services for deaf and hard of hearing people

This applies to all public and private information including national and local news providers (both live and recorded) and health services. Specific web pages with frequently asked questions for concerns of persons with disabilities and their families can be also useful.

Accessible, inclusive, hygienic health services and other facilities

  • Facilities and services involved in providing quarantine should be fully accessible to persons with disabilities, including full accessibility of information.
  • Health care workers should be informed about the risks facing people with pre-existing conditions which leave them vulnerable to respiratory conditions.
  • All entry points to health facilities (including those which may have been deemed ‘secondary’ entrances and which are, in fact, the only accessible approach) should be treated with the same hygiene protocols as all other parts of the service. This includes cleaning handrails of ramps or staircases, accessibility knobs for doors, etc.
  • Sterilisers and other hygiene materials should be equally available for persons with disabilities. They should be located in an accessible place, there should be accessible information to point to its location, and the mechanism to dispense the product should be accessible.

Invest in provision of services and support – European solidarity is needed to ensure strengthening of essential services

  • Health and social care systems are consistently underfunded across the EU. Investment in these services is essential and urgent to ensure they can meet the increased costs associated with the crisis, including medicines, protective materials and overtime of staff, in a way that is inclusive of everyone in the affected population.

Involving persons with disabilities

  • Persons with disabilities, through their representative organisations (Disabled People’s Organisations – DPOs), are the best placed to advise authorities on the specific requirements and most appropriate solutions when providing accessible and inclusive services.
  • All COVID-19’s containment and mitigation activities (not only those directly related to disability inclusion) must be planned and implemented with the active participation of persons with disabilities and DPOs – this applies to community and population wide initiatives as well as to individual situations.

Ensuring marginalised and isolated people are not left without essential goods, support and human contact

  • When visits to care facilities are banned and social distancing is recommended, people who are already more isolated will be among those most impacted. Nobody should be left without support, food and essential services. Planners must ensure that no-one is left behind.

Support networks and assistive devices

  • Funding and practical solutions must be available to ensure that persons with disabilities are not negatively affected by the temporary loss of people from their support networks (including personal assistants, family, and specific professional services) through illness or indirect impact of COVID-19.
  • Similarly, services involved in the provision and reparation of essential assistive devices must be prioritised.

Income protection

  • Authorities need to ensure that persons with disabilities and underlying health conditions can work from home, and, if this is not possible due to the nature of the job or any other reason, need to ensure a special leave that guarantees 100% of the employee’s income.
  • In many countries there are radical changes being made in public services, including closure of education and rehabilitation services, day care facilities and crèches. It is essential that people who must leave work in order to support their family members, or others they may be assisting, continue to receive an acceptable level of income during this period.

Ensuring that public health communication messages are respectful and non-discriminatory

  • Many people with pre-existing health conditions, older people, and people with complex needs are more at risk of serious health complications due to COVID-19. However, public messaging on the topic must be respectful and free of bias, avoiding potential of discrimination towards any part of the population based on age or disability.

Ensuring persons with disabilities are counted

  • Health information systems and monitoring, and new systems used to monitor and contain the spread and effect of COVID-19 should be disaggregated by age, sex and disability.