- May 11, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series.

Names have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story.


“I live alone, I am completely independent, and I will always live that way. Yet, the military officers stopped me the other day that I left my house to do some grocery shopping. They started harassing me on the street, telling me that I should not leave my place because I am ‘sick’, and I am a person at high risk. I told them that I am 32 years old, I am completely healthy, I have no diabetes or any disease, and I live alone, and I am independent, so there is no reason for me to not do my grocery shopping. Still, the military officers insisted that I am a person at high risk because of my disability. I had to explain to them that being blind is not being sick. Yet, they refused to let me pass, they harassed me and threatened me with fining me. Sometimes I just want to cry; this situation is very frustrating. The military officers approach you in a very intimidating way; between five or six officers surround you and tell you all kinds of threats. They don’t allow you to speak or explain yourself. They have no training whatsoever on human rights or disability rights. Moreover, front-line workers are not aware of the needs of persons with disabilities nor the applicable legal framework and they refuse to accommodate you. I also feel insecure about getting infected with COVID 19 because people in the streets do not care about us, and they push us”. 

This is the story of Alessa a blind woman from Peru who spoke to the International Disability Alliance about her life during the pandemic.

In the last few years, Peru has taken important steps towards the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities by enacting different legislations that harmonize the domestic laws with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), such as the recognition of legal capacity and supported decision-making schemes. 

Like many other countries, Peru declared the State of Emergency in its territory in mid-May as a response to the health crisis caused by COVID 19. The State of Emergency, among other measures, limits the freedom of movement of citizens and obligates them to stay home. 

However, the Peruvian government took a step forward by incorporating a disability perspective to its humanitarian response by issuing different measures aiming to address the specific needs of persons with disabilities and other minorities such as older people and people living in extreme poverty. 

For instance, the Peruvian government enacted the Legislative Decree No. 1468 that establishes preventive and protective measures for persons with disabilities during the health emergency provoked by COVID 19 (hereinafter Decree No. 1468) Decree No. 1468 recalls the obligations of Peru under the CRPD and recognizes the responsibility of the State towards this population, asserting that persons with disabilities have the right to personal security, to protection measures and to access basic services that allow them to subsist with dignity, under the full respect of their legal capacity. Under Decree No. 1468, all the measures adopted by the government during the COVID 19 crisis must ensure the accessibility of health and social services for persons with disabilities without discrimination. Regarding persons with disabilities living in institutions or facilities, Decree No. 1468 establishes the obligation of those centers to provide the necessary accommodations and adaptations, as well as to test health workers and persons with disabilities to avoid the spreading of the disease and to identify COVID 19 cases opportunely. Likewise, the Decree establishes that persons with disabilities should have priority access to goods, services, or any humanitarian resources provided by the State. Furthermore, it establishes that all the information related to COVID 19 shared by the three levels of government must be disseminated in accessible formats, such as braille, sign language, and other formats. It also mentions that persons with disabilities should enjoy access to remote work and education services. 

The measures contained in Decree No. 1468 also apply to those families that provide support and assistance to relatives with disabilities. 

Under the State of Emergency, Peruvians are only permitted to leave their houses for essential needs, such as grocery shopping, seeking medical assistance, or assisting persons with disabilities, children, and older people. However, Decree No. 1468 contains an exception to the limitation of free movement that benefits persons with disabilities that require special recreation measures, such as children with autism, who are permitted to take short walks to fulfill their needs. This measure constitutes a big step towards the recognition of the diversity of needs among the disability community. 

Furthermore, the Peruvian government enacted the Guidelines on the implementation of the support network for older adults and persons with severe disabilities to prevent and control COVID 19These guidelines aim to provide local governments with proper directions on how to address the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities to prevent, mitigate, and control COVID 19 infections among that population. With the implementation of the support networks, the government expects to create adequate channels of information and follow up for those in the most vulnerable situations, and to distribute the packages of prioritized basic services promptly. 

These guidelines contain several phases and detailed instructions that operators must follow. The first phase deals with the identification of the target population through phone calls. This stage is mainly operated by volunteers who use the information from the national register of older persons and persons with disabilities to identify and contact them, as well as to follow up on their health status. The guidelines provide detailed information on how to address the concerns of the beneficiaries and what to do before a possible case of COVID 19 or other emergencies. Phase two refers to the identification of the target population through home visits and subsequent telephone monitoring. This phase’s objective is to deliver the packages of prioritized basic goods and services to the most vulnerable ones and monitor their health status. 

The support network for older adults and persons with severe disabilities constitutes a step forward to the realization of the right to live independently in the community, and a good practice to avoid institutionalization. 

Moreover, the Peruvian government is providing support to people living in extreme poverty and independent workers. In principle, this support is determined by the level of poverty of an individual. However, the government also issued a Guide to provide orientation to the municipalities on how to determine eligibility for this program. The Guide suggests, first, looking at the economic situation of the individual, and second, considering special circumstances such as single parents with more than two children or families with older adults or persons with severe disabilities. 

Despite the efforts undertaken by the Peruvian government to address the needs of persons with disabilities, there are still some challenges that they are facing during the COVID 19 crisis. 

In her interview with the International Disability Alliance, Alessa, a Peruvian blind woman living in Lima, comments that one of the first challenges regarding the implementation of Decree No. 1468 is that the municipalities do not know how to implement these measures or do not follow the guidelines to distribute goods and other services. For instance, some municipalities are abusing their discretionary power and distributing the packages of prioritized basic goods and services to individuals who are not living in extreme poverty, such as public servants.

The second challenge, according to Alessa, is the lack of interest of municipalities on persons with disabilities. Front-line workers are constantly replaced, which makes it hard to provide adequate follow-up to the cases of vulnerable people. There is also a lack of public sensitivity and interest in the rights of persons with disabilities. 

Additionally, persons with disabilities are not very aware of their rights or available social programs, which makes it more difficult for them to access support services. As the Peruvian government is using its national register of persons with disabilities to identify them, follow-up on their situation, and deliver goods and other services, those individuals that are not officially registered are not being identified and, consequently, do not receive the support that they are entitled to. 

Regarding the access to services during the mandatory quarantine, Alessa has received economic support from the government, which is not enough or even compared to what she perceived before the pandemic, but it is acceptable to cover basic needs. She is a street vendor and has been selling products for 17 years. In her own words “the reality is that I am currently unemployed, and it is uncertain when I will be able to go back to my business. I am worried about what is going to happen in two months when my savings are gone, I do not know how I am going to pay for the next term of my education. I live alone, I have my business and I do not depend financially on anyone.”

As in many other countries, another big challenge that Peru will face is the reintegration of those individuals who lost their jobs due to the isolation measures to the labor market. According to Alessa, this will be especially challenging for persons with disabilities because the measures taken by Peru will be mostly focused on workers in formal employment schemes. Nonetheless, the reality is that the majority of persons with disabilities in Peru are engaged in the informal labor market; consequently, they will not be able to access ay measures taken to reintegrate people into their jobs. “In my case, I decided to enter the informal labor market many years ago because I don’t like the abuses of employers”, Alessa says. 

Regarding the dissemination of information on COVID 19, social distancing measures, and the supply of goods and services, Alessa asserts that the majority of the information is not accessible, especially for the blind community. “The Ministry of Health uses too many infographics (information contained in images), which our accessibility software cannot read. Likewise, the formal channels of communication are not very accessible for persons with visual impairments. The videos play background music, which makes it difficult for us to listen to relevant information and it is distracting. Moreover, the informative videos contain ambiguous wording that can be confusing for blind people. As an absurd example, once I heard a video explaining how to avoid getting infected with COVID 19 and the hygiene measures that we must take; this video was narrating that we must wash everything with bleach: the keys, the money, the cellphone… But as the video is showing the images on how to disinfect your personal belongings, the voice in the video does not accurately describe what the video is showing. You cannot inform blind people to wash their cellphones because they will be ruined, you should give specific instructions like ‘clean your cellphone with bleach in this or that way’. Nonetheless, I have been told that the remote education services at the elementary level are very accessible. However, at the university level, the story is very different: I am currently studying a B.A. in Philosophy, but the university is failing to provide accessibility measures for remote education. The professors are constantly changing online platforms; for blind people is hard to learn how to use them quickly, and there are professors changing platforms every week. Moreover, the university always sends information in images, which our software cannot read”. 

When asked about how the isolation measures have impacted her life, Alessa explains that the lack of training on disability rights of the army is making her life difficult. Military officers have taken the streets during the State of Emergency to guard the social distancing measures on the streets and to monitor that people stay home.  

Alessa believes that there are still many barriers that persons with disabilities are facing, despite the legislative efforts undertaken by Peru to protect them. However, she thinks that these measures are favorable. “It is better to have these laws that not having them at all, and the biggest challenge is to change how persons with disabilities are conceived by others and conceive themselves”.