Building back better: How disability inclusion is essential to recover and reset post pandemic
6 December 2021 at 6:02 pm
A new report from international development organisation CBM shines a light on the impact COVID-19 had on people with disabilities globally – and the compelling need for disability inclusion in Australia’s development and aid response, writes CBM Australia CEO Jane Edge.
There has been a catastrophic failure globally to preserve the lives, health and rights of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has dramatically deepened pre-existing inequalities for people with disabilities. In fact, the World Health Organisation has identified people with disabilities as one of the most vulnerable populations in public health emergencies that is more significantly affected by the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
The harsh reality is that people with disabilities are at much greater risk of dying from the virus, with sobering statistics from the UK estimating that 60 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths are people with a disability. On top of that, women with disabilities and other under-represented groups of people with disabilities have been experiencing greater social and economic exclusion during the pandemic.
It’s a message that we felt was important to get across in CBM’s new video, Build Back a Better World for All, as a celebration of International Day of People with Disabilities on 3 December. The video amplifies the voices of people with disabilities and the extraordinary challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic.
In the video, Almah, a lifelong disability inclusion advocate from Papua New Guinea, is just one of the many strong, bold voices to share their experience of the pandemic.
“As a person with a disability and as a woman with a disability I was really afraid and frightened,” Almah said. “The message around COVID-19 wasn’t clear. We did not have the right PPE (safety gear) to keep working and we could not be visited in our homes.”
The video highlights a raft of issues faced by people with disabilities as a result of COVID-19, including less access to healthcare and information, access to vaccines, worse mental health, a lack of involvement in response planning, and a loss of income and little or no financial assistance.
The Leave No One Behind report released by CBM and the Australian Disability and Development Consortium presents the profound impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities globally, and the compelling need for disability inclusion in Australia’s development and aid response.
The report collates research within Australia and around the globe. It involved widespread consultations during 2020-2021 with organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) across Asia, the Pacific and Africa.
This research shows that if COVID-19 responses do not actively target people with disabilities, this group will be left further behind, further excluded from socio-economic development as communities start to recover.
With 80 per cent of people with disabilities around the world living in low and middle-income countries, the time for change is now. A worrying 85 per cent of people with disabilities surveyed in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines affected by COVID-19 lockdowns were yet to receive any financial assistance.
Closer to home, Australia urgently needs to specifically target disability in its COVID-19 development response and needs to do far more to save and improve lives. The Australian government has been a global leader in disability inclusion, and has prioritised disability inclusion in its aid policy, Partnerships for Recovery, however, there has been decreasing investment in core disability inclusion funding in the aid program over the past two years, at a time when people with disabilities in our region have been most impacted by COVID-19.
Organisations of people with disabilities are playing a vital role in ensuring people with disabilities are reached when they have been otherwise forgotten in pandemic responses and policy making. Examples include Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA) in Samoa, which successfully advocated for televised government public communications on COVID-19 to include sign language. Over in Nepal, the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association is advocating for Indigenous people with disabilities who were excluded from critical COVID-19 responses, including basic services such as food packages and medical care.
It’s essential that all governments prioritise people with disabilities for early COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as addressing specific barriers they may have to accessing vaccines and services, including providing information in accessible formats such as braille and sign-language; ensuring vaccination facilities and services have fully accessible toilets, footpaths, buildings and equipment; and accessible transport.
Governments should actively include people with disabilities in all areas of response, including design, implementation, and monitoring, abiding by the guiding principle of “nothing about us without us”.
Finally, mainstream development programs, including education, livelihood, health, social protection and gender-based violence programs, should consider the specific needs and barriers to access for people with disabilities. Barriers often include inaccessible information and infrastructure, attitudes of service providers, and financial cost.
The case for inclusion is utterly compelling: disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses will result in recovery that better serves everyone, along with helping to better suppress the virus, all while saving lives and livelihoods.
As Build Back a Better World for All urges, it’s time to include the voices of people with disabilities in COVID-19 recovery efforts. People with disabilities have ideas to share. It’s high time governments, the private sector, and development organisations listened.