On Friday 30th October, the event “COVID-19 and Disability” took place together with Lebenshilfe, a German organisation of persons with disabilities that defend the interests of persons with intellectual disabilities persons. The conference funded by the European Union had the participation of the Ministry of Social Affairs of the German Government.
Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities in Europe
The pandemic is representing a human crisis of unprecedented scale, seriously affecting health and disrupting the livelihood and overall wellbeing of people all over the world. It impacts human rights and intensifies inequalities faced by marginalised groups prior to the pandemic. For people with disabilities, it has meant isolation. At each phase of the pandemic, and in each European country, persons with disabilities are suffering from the indifference of institutions, denial of access to healthcare, and inaccessible information.
Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF President stated that “Persons with disabilities are among the first victims of COVID-19 and they need to be the most prioritised groups in society when testing and vaccination is organised”.
Inequalities have been shown to disproportionately affect persons with disabilities.
Klaus Lachwitz Secretary-General of International Disability Alliance raises profound concerns about violations of the right to health for persons with disabilities. The global report on findings of the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor raises the alarm globally as to the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities worldwide and to catalyse urgent action in the weeks and months to come.
This report leaves us with such devastating data as 55% of the survey respondents said that their government had taken no measures to support families of children with disabilities during the pandemic. 52% of respondents who were aware of the situation of homeless persons with disabilities said that their government took no measures to protect the life, health, and safety of persons with disabilities living on the streets or in homeless shelters. There were reports of sexual assault, domestic violence, and police brutality against women and girls with disabilities.
If we stand together, the response will be stronger
European countries now face a second wave of infection, with numbers of people infected much higher than in April. European countries have already started to tighten up their measures, and everything indicates the beginning of hard lockdown for society. COVID-19 response and recovery should be disability-inclusive, protect the rights and needs of persons with disabilities and place them at the centre of all efforts.
Ana Peláez Narváez, EDF Vice-President stated that “In each Europe country, people with disabilities are suffering from isolation in many ways: information systems, healthcare systems, domestic violence…”. So, it is fundamental to ensure the inclusion and access of persons with disabilities to health services, on an equal basis with others, including medicines, vaccines and medical equipment, as well as to social protection services and other support systems, including for independent living, such as personal assistance, sign language and tactile interpretation, and psychosocial support.
Recommendations for policy makers at national and European level
For people with disabilities, the pandemic has direct consequences. That is why they must be in the priority group of the European institutions together with their support network. The services in the daily life need to be strengthened to become more resilient in this crisis.
We reiterate our recommendations published in March.
In relation to vaccination, we call on leaders from the EU and European countries to take the following measures:
- COVID-19 vaccination must be defined as a global public good, and made free of charge to all people.
- Persons with disabilities, and their support network must be offered priority access to vaccination; personal assistants, family careers, and persons working in disability related services should be considered as essential workers.
- Specific attention must be paid to ensure sites where vaccinations are delivered are accessible and all** information campaigns** must be inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.
- All electronic information systems related to vaccination must collect data disaggregated by age, gender and disability, and web-based services should also be fully accessible, while ensuring the respect for private life and confidentiality of health related information.
- Organisations of persons with disabilities must be properly resourced to become partners in the roll-out of information campaigns, for instance by reaching out to the most marginalised people and ensure their messages are clear, inclusive and accessible.