It is the most compelling time for journalism to report unapologetically and with brutal honesty while the world fights this global pandemic. Governments have been drafting policies and regulations to contain further growth in the number of people affected, and it’s upon the 4th pillar of democracy to shine a light on all communities, so no one is left behind. This is one such attempt.
The global race to finding a cure to the deadly virus seems a long one during which self-isolation is the only right way to go about defending yourself. Self-isolation is a privilege for the abled, and while most authorities who make the decisions for the rest of the country fall in this category, approximately 2.68 crore people in India according to census 2011 are left out of the equation.
With the tedious unravelling of the virus, we have learnt that persons with disabilities and chronic illnesses are at a higher risk than others. Social distancing does not come at the same cost after all. The local authorities must consider many persons with disabilities who are not able to perform basic self-survival activities independently, the visually and hearing impaired persons who rely on touch and those with mental disabilities who depend on caretakers and therapists as part of their diagnosis.
As per Section 8 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the persons with disabilities shall have equal protection and safety in situations of risk, armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters. This is nothing short of a humanitarian emergency. Local authorities must grant curfew passes to attendants and caretakers who must be treated like healthcare officials providing them with protective gear as it is a necessity for survival.
The complete lockdown in India has done so by turning a blind eye to many communities; therefore the onus falls on the local authorities. While the RPWD Act legally protects those who fall under the 21 legal classification of the disability, there are many who need attention in this fight for survival. The plethora of information about the virus on government websites need to be updated and more user friendly for the visually and hearing impaired.
Special schools run by the government have also been closed, an alternative online method and other mental engagements must be made available. Medication and medical attention must be made available on a priority basis if needed. Blood and oxygen supplies of the state-run hospitals must be stocked keeping in mind not only the increasing number of positive coronavirus cases but also of Persons with disabilities who might need them.
Khabri, a digital audio content platform in the regional language, has rolled out an exclusive COVID-19 helpline portal/platform that will help people with visual impairment or are blind. One such platform or helpline for an entire community does no justice to the cause. The state-run platforms are accessible only in the bigger cities. Every nook and corner of the country must be considered because neither coronavirus nor people with disabilities are subject to one particular area. Authorities must ensure state health care professionals keep a check on homes and nursing centres for the disabled community.
The basic survival kit, which includes a mask, gloves, sanitizer and soap must be made available to institutions that take care of persons with disabilities. The Disaster Management Authorities, along with the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in each state, must be able to ease out the solutions for the unprecedented challenges faced by individuals and institutions for persons with disabilities.
The higher risk faced here is not only bodily but that of the danger due to discrimination, lack of education, poor health care facilities and barriers of information and social inclusion.