GENEVA (17 March 2020) – Little has been done to provide people with disabilities with the guidance and support needed to protect them during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even though many of them are part of the high-risk group, today warned the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas.
"People with disabilities feel they have been left behind," the UN human rights expert said. "Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bathe."
"This support is basic for their survival, and States must take additional social protection measures to guarantee the continuity of support in a safe manner throughout the crisis."
The UN expert stressed that reasonable accommodation measures are essential to enable people with disabilities to reduce contacts and the risk of contamination. They should be allowed to work from home or receive paid leave to guarantee their income security. Family members and caregivers may also require reasonable accommodation to provide support to people with disabilities during this period.
"Access to additional financial aid is also vital to reduce the risk of people with disabilities and their families falling into greater vulnerability or poverty," she explained.
"Many people with disabilities depend on services that have been suspended and may not have enough money to stockpile food and medicine, or afford the extra cost of home deliveries."
Devandas also noted that the situation of people with disabilities in institutions, psychiatric facilities and prisons is particularly grave, given the high risk of contamination and the lack of external oversight, aggravated by the use of emergency powers for health reasons.
"Restrictions should be narrowly tailored, and use the least intrusive means to protect public health" she said. "Limiting their contact with loved ones leaves people with disabilities totally unprotected from any form of abuse or neglect in institutions.
"States have a heightened responsibility towards this population due to the structural discrimination they experience."
The UN expert stressed that persons with disabilities deserve to be reassured that their survival is a priority and urged States to establish clear protocols for public health emergencies to ensure that, when medical resources are scarce, access to healthcare, including life-saving measures, does not discriminate against people with disabilities.
"To face the pandemic, it is crucial that information about how to prevent and contain the coronavirus is accessible to everyone", she explained.
"Public advice campaigns and information from national health authorities must be made available to the public in sign language and accessible means, modes and formats, including accessible digital technology, captioning, relay services, text messages, easy-to-read and plain language."
"Organizations of people with disabilities should be consulted and involved in all stages of the COVID-19 response," Devandas concluded.
Devandas's appeal has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, Alice Cruz, and the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, Rosa Kornfeld-Matte.