Covid-19: Take care of vulnerable citizens| HT Editorial
India’s 21-day national lockdown has been a trying time for all residents, in varying degrees. However, what has gone almost unnoticed is the plight of India’s persons with disabilities (PWDs). Reports about the difficulties that PWDs are facing during the lockdown forced the government to act to provide access to information and essential services, but these have not been operationalised effectively yet. The issue of inaccessibility, even in normal circumstances, is cause for worry, since 2.2% of India’s population, or 26.8 million people, suffer from some form of disability. A pandemic (Covid-19) only exacerbates this problem.
According to the World Health Organization, PWDs are at high-risk of infection due to their physical, mental and cognitive impediments. Quarantining, social distancing and working from home are almost impossible due to their everyday dependence on caregivers. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, enjoins upon disaster management authorities to include PWDs in their crisis response. To be sure, the ministry of social justice and empowerment asked states and Union territories to make information about Covid-19 accessible — through audiotapes, braille, videographics with subtitles, and sign language interpretation. But a lot remains out of reach. Most markets, Covid-19 testing and quarantine centres are not disabled-friendly, despite PWDs being at high-risk.
Yes, the country is overwhelmed and its systems overburdened with an unprecedented emergency, but it must demarcate a clear chain of command for its vulnerable in its fight. Ensure doorstep deliveries of essential supplies, make areas more accessible, give PWDs the support system they need. India owes it to PWDs to be more inclusive, especially now.