Today is recognized as International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
In his message, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said, “COVID-19 has laid bare the persistent barriers and inequalities faced by the world’s one billion persons with disabilities, who have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.”
Focusing on the importance of participation in society by persons with disabilities, the UN noted, “Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. It is also central to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind.
“The commitment to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common future.”
UN statistics indicate that of the one billion people with disabilities worldwide, 80 percent live in developing countries.
One in every five women is likely to experience disability in her life according to the UN, with one in every 10 children being a child with a disability.
COVID restrictions in The Bahamas, particularly those limiting access to public transportation and those which scaled back access to regular health screenings, preventative care and rehabilitation, have had a toll on the quality of life of persons with disabilities that has not been publicly quantified.
Children with learning disabilities or other categories of special needs have also been significantly impacted by a switch to virtual learning, which has continued with only brief interruptions throughout the course of the country’s pandemic response.
A commentary published in March in The Lancet entitled Triple Jeopardy: Disabled People and the COVID-19 Pandemic noted, “People with disabilities have been differentially affected by COVID-19 because of three factors: the increased risk of poor outcomes from the disease itself, reduced access to routine health care and rehabilitation, and the adverse social impacts of efforts to mitigate the pandemic.”
Authors Shakespeare, Ndagire and Seketi added, “The lockdown measures societies have taken during the COVID-19 pandemic have meant people with disabilities are worse off and more excluded.”
The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in a May 2021 summary report on the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities, found that individuals with disabilities were experiencing higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates.
Its recommendations included the provision of free COVID-19 testing that is accessible to all persons with disabilities.
The OHCHR further called for test results to be provided with the necessary support to persons with intellectual disabilities, that may need assistance in understanding the results and their consequences.
Deficiencies in focus and protection for those with disabilities during the COVID pandemic meantime are not exclusively a feature of developing countries that battle with constraints including limited financial and social resources.
The fifth edition of the European Disability Forum’s Human Rights Report highlights that the EU and European countries, “have largely failed to include persons with disabilities in their response to the pandemic, both within Europe and in their global response.
“This failure has paved the way for violations of the right to life, to health, to information, to accessibility, to equality and non-discrimination, to education, to work, to be free from violence, abuse and neglect, to liberty and security, to live independently and be included in the community, to social protection, and to be actively involved and consulted in all areas affecting our lives.”
Under the Davis administration’s general COVID Health Rules, the appointment by the minister of an advisory committee is mandated, with its membership primarily consisting of health professionals.
Given that the rules also make provision for the appointment to the committee of “other professionals as the minister may deem necessary”, a key mechanism of inclusion for persons with disabilities could be in having this segment of society represented on the committee.
In this way, the minister and fellow members of the advisory committee can be informed on how established health rules could impact persons with disabilities on a practical level, and on how such rules and associated responses can be best tailored to mitigate the risk of poorer outcomes for the country’s disabled population.