Being under lockdown and socially excluded—this is nothing new for people with disabilities due to the inaccessibility of resources and services that exist at multiple levels. The current lockdown, however, has made the situation more challenging for people with disabilities by aggravating the barriers that already existed.
Physical inaccessibility is one of the main challenges during this period. I conducted an interview with Meenu Arora, who is the founder of Yes! We Can and also happens to be a person with Cerebral Palsy. In the interview, she mentions how challenging it is for her to even access an ATM because her wheelchair cannot go inside.
The poor condition of the roads also adds a barrier to mobility. A person with a manual wheelchair is forced to depend on other people to move around if the road is cracked, full of potholes, uneven, or waterlogged to name a few challenges. This further points out to another challenge: the dependency of people with disabilities on others.
“Any work—be it combing my hair, having tea—can not be done from a distance,” says Meenu. “I need help with every tiny thing. I need to hold hands or get hold of things. My work cannot be done without touching.”
When it comes to disability, one also needs to understand that it is not a standalone challenge. Health issues and financial expenditures are some of the many challenges Meenu told me about. “The expenditure of a disabled person is usually a lot because of medications, maid and other things,” she said. “Lockdown has closed everything, but our needs for medication can’t be stopped.”
The lockdown doesn’t affect the present situation alone. It also affects the future, and it’s making people feel hopeless as well. Meenu shares her concern, saying: “Social distancing would affect me badly. In the future, I can see a lot of problems. People would resist to help me now to maintain social distance. Social distancing is a big question for me, how will I survive with this?”
The disabled community involved in the unorganised sectors is the worst hit. As Muralidharan, a disability rights activist, said, “We are the last ones to be hired and first to be fired.”
Sums up the situation.
However, one can see some hope of accessibility with technology. Many institutions are not accessible to people with disabilities. Now, with webinars and classes happening online, people with disabilities can be an equal part of these learning spaces. Work culture and socialising too have become more accessible. “We are able to attend the courses online,” said Meenu. “We are able to attend church gatherings online. Earlier, we were not able to do that.”
I wonder why all of this couldn’t have been done any sooner. Did we have to wait for a pandemic to make this happen? People with disabilities have been demanding accessible working policies for years, unfortunately, they were ignored. That is until the coronavirus hit and now institutions are making modifications for their work from the home environment as the ‘New Normal’.
For Meenu and other persons with disabilities, what happens from here onwards remains to be seen.