The Global Health Risks study by the WHO in 2011 estimated that there are around 95 million (5.1%) children between 0-14 years of age with disabilities globally, and 80% of these children are living in low-income and middle-income countries. A majority of these children are deprived of their right to inclusive and good-quality education due to absence of financial and other incentives to attend school, and lack of social protection and support services for children with disabilities and their families.
The profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on public health as well as socio-economic and cultural systems around the world are well-established by now. Crises such as pandemics, warfare and natural disasters create additional challenges for children with disabilities due to their functional limitations. Besides isolation, neglect and separation from family members, children with disabilities may also face lack of inclusive humanitarian response and disruption in education.
The mainstream response to continued learning of children during COVID-19, such as remote education using technology tools, may not be accessible to children with disabilities, particularly to low-income families and children residing in remote areas. Additionally, access to school nutrition program, inclusive WASH facilities or essential care services, and therapy may not be available at home or community space.
In order to ensure the right of education for children with disabilities, the pandemic can be utilised to review and plan accessible and inclusive education for children with disabilities during and after emergencies. Efforts by some countries during previous pandemics such as Ebola can be referred to, in order to develop guidelines during potential challenges.
The reforms planned and implemented during this pandemic will also guide the inclusion of children with disabilities while tackling other crises or humanitarian conflicts.
Education of children with disabilities should be added as a part of humanitarian relief efforts to save them from dangers and exploitation during and after emergencies. Education systems should be modified and supported to provide accessible learning to children with disabilities. Teachers play an important role in providing inclusive education, and need to be trained in delivering remote learning, considering children with complex learning needs. Contextual and culture-appropriate mechanisms are needed for inclusive WASH, nutrition, and mental health support for children with disabilities.
A crisis such as this also increase stress among parents and caregivers of children with disabilities. The caregivers and family members should be encouraged to reach out to community members, community-based organisations, or mental health helplines for psychosocial support during and after the pandemic.
Parents and caregivers should also be encouraged to collaborate with teachers to ensure the well-being and learning of children. Studies are required to generate the disaggregate data by disability for emergency response, in order to develop interventions and improve support for children with disabilities in their learning.
Note: The article was originally posted here.