Forty-year-old Justin Vijay is paralysed neck below and is wheelchair-bound. At the start of the pandemic, he was stuck alone at home as his family was visiting their hometown when the lockdown was announced. “Access to domestic help, a cook was cut off. Supplies for the first 2-3 weeks weren’t there. So, I had to manage my personal care, food, cleaning and medical care on my own. I anticipated my health care needs, like changing the catheter, and planned accordingly,” said Vijay who lives in Hyderabad and works in the disability sector.
People with disabilities (PwD) constitute about 2.2% of Indian’s population. While all were impacted by Covid-19, PwD suffered more. Now, there’s a study that gauges what kind of an impact the pandemic had on the physical, mental and financial well-being of PwD.
In the study 84.2% of all the disabled persons confirmed that their life had been impacted by the pandemic
Conducted in 14 states of India on 403 individuals, the study found that the daily lives of 84.2% PwD had been impacted. The lack of mobility both in rural and urban areas led to distress. The study noted that 81.6% of all respondents experienced moderate to high levels of stress and 42.5%, i.e., two out of every five PwD, reported that lockdown had made it difficult for them to access routine medical care. Nearly a quarter had difficulty in accessing their medicines. The study was conducted by Christian Blind Mission India, an NGO, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Public Health, Hyderabad, and Humanity & Inclusion, an NGO. Of all the people interviewed, half had physical impairments, 16% had visual, 11% had intellectual and 9% had hearing and speech impairments.
The study found that the pandemic had a profound impact on the livelihood of PwD. About 45.7% of PwD were forced to borrow money during the lockdown mainly for their businesses and 84.7% had to borrow or request money for food. A third (33.1%) also mentioned that their pensions were affected. “We have to be aware that for PwD it’s not easy to withdraw money from ATMs and banks, and it became even tougher during the lockdown. When we plan ahead, we need to consider supporting them with cash disbursements in case of another pandemic or a crisis,” said Prof G V S Murthy, director, IIPH, Hyderabad.
The report highlighted that with schools closed continuin g education was a major challenge for children with disability; 73% had very limited access to learning. In Mumbai, Devangi Dalal, who runs Josh Foundation for children with hearing impairment, said that inability to continue education was impacting their mental well-being, especially in children from low-income backgrounds who don’t have access to hearing aids, computers, laptops or tablets.
Dr Sara Varughese, managing trustee, CBM India, said, “For children with disabilities, education needs to be approached differently, teachers have to reach out in sign language and in different ways…all this is not happening in online education right now. Our health system and social systems have let down the most vulnerable section of the society.”
One of the objectives of doing this study was to find out ways in which this vulnerable section of the society could be supported in case of another pandemic or a similar crisis. “We also wanted to gather data in the field of disability as it is hard to find evidence-based studies in this area,” said Annie Hans from Humanity & Inclusion, an NGO, also a partner in this study.
Prof Murthy added that not being able to receive information about Covid in an accessible format increased stress for PwD who anyway have higher stress levels than the rest. “They were scared by reports around them, about the risk of Covid without having information on how they could protect themselves,” he added.