The COVID-19 is changing every aspect of our societies, revealing pre-existing inequalities and highlighting that work on disability inclusion is imperative. Therefore, Inclusion Europe highlights news and statements around the topic of rights of people with disabilities and their families.
How COVID-19 brings inequalities to light?
In the coronavirus context, people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted in access to healthcare, income opportunities, and education.
“Learners with disabilities encounter barriers which can negatively affect their learning development and results”, said European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli. During the lockdown, learning process is primarily taking place virtually. However, the lack of accessibility and necessary support to permit them to follow online school programs increases the exclusion of students with disabilities.
The COVID-19’s impact on work and income of people with disabilities is significant. People with disabilities have less access to social insurance based on employment than others.
The United Nations Human Rights Office underlined that this discrimination decreases their economic resilience in the COVID-19 context. People with disabilities are currently facing increased risks of losing their job.
The European Disability Forum warned that “many people with disabilities have precarious contracts and low salaries, giving them little or no protection during business closures”. Moreover, people with disabilities are facing barriers to work from home due to the absence of required equipment and support that they usually have in their workplace.
The COVID-19 puts to the test the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially the right to have access to healthcare without discrimination on the basis of disability. In the current context, people with disabilities do not have equal access to medical treatment than others.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed her concern in a statement: “I have been deeply disturbed by reports that the lives of persons with disabilities may somehow be given different weight than others during this pandemic. (…) Medical decisions need to be based on individualized clinical assessments and medical need, and not on age or other characteristics such as disability.”
Inclusion Ireland also pointed out this discrimination, as did many more of our members. The association calls the Department of Health to amend recently published guidelines on clinical decision making for those in critical care. According to Inclusion Ireland, these recommendations deny people with disabilities and indicate that they may be treated differently from other people. “It is vital that decisions based on the distribution of life-saving resources must not be based on the presence of a disability, and this stance is supported by international human rights conventions”, advocated Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland.
Calls for a disability-inclusive response to COVID-19
“People with disabilities not only face greater risks from COVID-19, they also are disproportionately affected by response measures”, said Michelle Bachelet. As claimed by advocates who are pushing for immediate corrective action, governments must include people with disabilities in the COVID-19 response.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the European Disability Forum urges the European Union to take financial measures to support people with disabilities. For the association, considerable European funds need to go to social inclusion. “Persons with disabilities must be included in the recovering plans that will come. Economic relief should have people in its focus not business”, said Catherine Naughton, Director of the European Disability Forum.
In an open letter, the association called European leaders to plan for a fully inclusive economic recovery. Among other things, the association asks to earmark a considerable percentage of funds in the European Budget post-2020 for the social inclusion of those who are at high risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as people with disabilities. It also calls to earmark European funding from the “European Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative” specifically to support community-based disability support services.
The development of inclusive healthcare systems is a key priority for Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
She reaffirmed that all people have the right to be protected during the pandemic. As she mentioned in a comment: “Many persons with disabilities rely on the support of others in their daily activities and the continuity and safety of such support must be guaranteed during the crisis. People living in institutions or detention face a high risk of infection and should be afforded protective measures.”
Along the same lines, the European Committee of Social Rights underlined in a statement that “healthcare in a pandemic must be effective and affordable to everyone, and that groups at particularly high risk (…), such as persons with disabilities, must be adequately protected by the healthcare measures put in place”.
In addition, to ensure universal access to healthcare, advocates for a disability-inclusive response to COVID-19 ask to make information about coronavirus accessible to everyone.
This is what three European commissioners, Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, and Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, pointed out in a letter to members states’ ministers : “We encourage you to ensure that all public announcements on COVID-19 reach all members of society, (…) including through accessible and easy-to-read format, sign language interpretation and on-screen captioning.”
While people with disabilities are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic and emergency measures taken by governments, calls to build a disability-inclusive response to COVID-19 continue to increase. Now is the time for Europe to ensure no one is left behind.
Inclusion Europe’s material about the COVID-19
For more information about the situation in European countries, watch recordings or read the minutes of Inclusion Europe’s online meetings about the Coronavirus emergency.
For the information about the impact of Coronavirus on the education of children with intellectual disabilities read in Inclusion Europe’s briefing Impact on education for children with intellectual disabilities.