Little has been done across the world to provide disabled people with the support and guidance needed to protect them during the coronavirus pandemic, despite many of them being in a high-risk group, a UN human rights expert has warned.
Catalina Devandas Aguilar (pictured), the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said disabled people feel as though they have been “left behind”.
She said: “Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bath.
“This support is basic for their survival, and States must take additional social protection measures to guarantee the continuity of support in a safe manner throughout the crisis.”
She called on governments to take reasonable measures to ensure disabled people can reduce contact with others and cut the risk of contamination.
This should include allowing them to work from home, or providing access to financial aid.
She said: “Many people with disabilities depend on services that have been suspended and may not have enough money to stockpile food and medicine, or afford the extra cost of home deliveries.”
Devandas Aguilar also warned that the situation of disabled people in institutions, including mental health units and prisons, was “particularly grave” because of the high risk of contamination and the lack of external oversight which could be aggravated by the use of emergency powers introduced to deal with the health crisis.
She said: “Restrictions should be narrowly tailored, and use the least intrusive means to protect public health.
“Limiting their contact with loved ones leaves people with disabilities totally unprotected from any form of abuse or neglect in institutions.”
She said governments should be reassuring disabled people that their survival is a priority, and establishing “clear protocols” to ensure that access to healthcare does not discriminate against disabled people.
And she said it was crucial that information on how to prevent and contain coronavirus was accessible to everyone through sign language, and the use of plain language, accessible digital technology, captioning, relay services, text messages, and easy-read formats.
She also said that organisations run and controlled by disabled people should be consulted and involved at all stages of the COVID-19 response.
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following: