Governments around the world – including the UK’s – have “overwhelmingly failed” to protect disabled people’s rights in responding to the global pandemic, according to the results of a major international survey.
This has had “dire consequences”, with thousands of avoidable and preventable deaths and other “serious human rights abuses”, says a report based on the survey.
The COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor (DRM) project aims to “raise the alarm globally” about the “catastrophic impact” of the pandemic on disabled people worldwide.
The testimonies of disabled people gathered for the report “show just how precarious the situation is”, says the report.
It particularly highlights “inadequate” measures to protect disabled people in institutions; a “significant and fatal” breakdown of community support; and the disproportionate impact on under-represented groups of disabled people, such as children, women, homeless people, and those living in remote and rural locations.
It also highlights the denial of access to healthcare, including discrimination in triage, unaffordable medication, and the inability of disabled people to leave home to access essential healthcare and medication, as well as “alarming testimonies” that disabled people have been “denied or deprived of life-saving treatment for COVID-19 on the basis of disability, resulting in many preventable deaths”.
The report says that disabled people are reporting “being left behind” during the pandemic in both wealthy and developing countries.
And it warns that some governments have “actively pursued” policies that have led to “wide-scale violations of the rights to life and health of disabled people”.
Other rights impacted by government policies include the rights to liberty; freedom from torture, ill-treatment, exploitation, violence and abuse; independent living and inclusion in the community; and inclusive education.
One of the most common faults has been the failure to “genuinely include” disabled people in national responses to the pandemic, with “policymakers at many levels” appearing to have reverted to treating disabled people as “objects of care or control, undermining many of the gains of recent years to enhance citizenship, rights, and inclusion”.
The report is based on responses to a survey from more than 2,100 individuals and organisations from 134 countries, most of them disabled people and their representative organisations.
It includes evidence from more than 3,000 written testimonies by disabled people and family members of their experiences during the pandemic.
But only 26 governments and 12 human rights institutions responded to efforts to secure their evidence.
In some countries, the report found, breaking coronavirus curfew rules was “a matter of life and death”.
An Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder was shot and killed in the Philippines, and a respondent from a Ugandan disabled people’s organisation (DPO) said they knew of two Deaf people who were shot at “because they were outside in curfew time” and “didn’t know what was happening”, while another Ugandan respondent said that a disabled woman had been beaten up after curfew time while looking for food.
Almost one third (633) of survey respondents, across 81 countries, said that disabled people in their country could not access food, with Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Rwanda and Peru the countries with the highest proportion of respondents reporting this.
The experience of disabled people in the UK was mentioned several times in the report.
Respondents from around the world said they were living in fear of the police. In Europe, respondents from the UK, Italy and France said they were “afraid to leave their homes” while many believed the police were “unreasonable and heavy-handed”.
The UK government’s failures are mentioned several other times in the report, including widely reported concerns about access to healthcare.
One UK DPO said: “A eugenics programme has been undertaken covertly… Do Not Resuscitate Notices (DNRs) were placed on people with no consultation, especially older persons and persons with learning disabilities.”
Testimonies from the UK, Canada, USA, Austria, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Georgia, France and South Africa said their governments “indicated” that hospital triage should discriminate against disabled COVID-19 patients if there was a shortage of hospital places.
The report also says: “The countries with the most written testimonies about the lack of [personal protective equipment] and cleanliness in institutions were the USA, the UK, Canada, Ireland, and South Africa.”
It adds: “Respondents from Australia, the USA, the UK, and Colombia complained that their government spread misinformation or confusing information about the state of emergency.”
And it says: “More than 25 per cent of respondents from Belgium, Canada, France, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom said that persons with disabilities did not have access to food during the pandemic.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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