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Adjust and Respond – The experience of organisations working with people with disabilities in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic

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This report from IDDC has one central purpose: To provide guidance to support United Nations (UN) agencies and government structures to ensure disability inclusion and abide by the Convention on the Rights of people with disabilities (CRPD) even in challenging and disruptive contexts such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report draws lessons from analysing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related emergency measures implemented by authorities to curb its spread on civil society organisations, with a particular focus on projects and programmes and the continuation of service provision for people with disabilities run by I DDC members and its partners in the Global South.

Supported by the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of people with disabilities (UNPRPD) through its global programme on COVID-19 inclusive response and recovery, the report records IDDC members’ experiences of how they adapted and are still adapting to challenges posed by the pandemic. While the COVID-19 pandemic tested Civil Society Organisations (CS Os) in a huge variety of ways, it has shone a clear and harsh light on the realities of discrimination and human rights abuses that people with disabilities experience on a daily basis across the globe. Data and testimonies collected, through surveys such as the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor, indicate that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the rights of people with disabilities. Everyday barriers such as physical accessibility, barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, affordability of healthcare,
inaccessible health communications, limitations on access to health insurance have had direct negative impacts, and the discriminatory laws and stigma in many countries have proved to be life threatening for many people with disabilities.

Supporting the rights of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic has required adaptations within organisations for the working patterns of staff, and the ways in which programmes are run. Experiences from IDDC members and their partners revealed that the majority of programmes tailored towards people with disabilities have been adapted, and have focused on direct responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the needs of people with disabilities, incorporating social distancing measures, moving programmes online and providing tele health, adapting education programmes, adopting an immediate risk mitigation and reduction response to the needs of people with disabilities and taking a disaster risk reduction approach due to unforeseen events such as Cyclone Amphan, which struck as the pandemic developed.

Support provided to people with disabilities through programmes has included:

  • Support provisions at home and in health care settings;
  • Enabling the use of mobile platforms and tele health;
  • Specialised support for health needs tailored towards specific groups;
  • Supporting access to employment and income and education;
  • Dietary support;
  • Provision of WASH services;
  • Support for participation in political activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building on existing partnerships, IDDC members have worked with organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs), which facilitated awareness raising activities on COVID-19 by providing accessible information and data collection on the needs of people with disabilities. Making sure that O PDs are heard helps to ensure services and programmes are inclusive and addresses the needs of people with disabilities.

Working with national and local governments has been an important factor in ensuring that organisations can continue to meet the needs of people with disabilities through programmes. National clusters, regular meetings, and training with the support of ministries has helped responses to be effective during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community programmes with effective advocacy and communication strategies run in collaboration with local authorities have enabled social protection and financial support measures to be put in place for people with disabilities.