- May 15, 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.

Reyansh: “What happens to persons with disabilities that don’t have access to a phone or internet?” 

Reyansh is a blind teacher in his mid-30s. He is involved in disability activism and collaborates with a national DPO. He explains that having to stay at home for almost two months has negative impact on his psychological wellbing: “We are going through difficult times: loss of livelihood, fear of hunger or starvation, lack of income”.

He is especially worried that hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and persons with disabilities not receiving regular treatment. Moreover, public healthcare is rarely accessible and inclusive and many have to rely on private healthcare, which is very expensive and hardly affordable. He provides the example of people in need of blood transfusions. As it is now high summer in India, blood banks normally experience shortage. COVID-19 has made this situation worse. In the case of his daughter, who needs medical assistance, Reyansh’s has been advised that she needs to stay at home, however, he’s concerned about possible health implications for her. “First there is no public transport available, second we’ve been instructed not to go to hospital unless it’s essential, and third, the hospital she normally goes to has been closed down due to positive COVID-19 cases”, he explains.

Reyansh emphasizes the problems caused by the digital divide. “Those of us that are digitally connected can coordinate our response, exchange views, show support, but what happens to persons with disabilities that don’t have access to phone or internet, how do we reach out to them?”, he wonders. Reyansh obtains information regarding COVID-19 through online newspapers but this is not an option for those who do not have digital access to information. “This shows how essential digital connectivity and literacy is for persons with disabilities”, he says.

Moreover, the absence of a clear guideline and recommendations for persons with disabilities means they are not being prioritized, and many do not have access to food. He explains that some persons with disabilities have received 3-months’ worth of their allowance in one month but no additionalsupport. “Many persons with disabilities are denied food as they don’t possess official documents such as disability certificates or ration cards”, he says.

Riddhi: “What will happen to me if I’m infected with COVID-19?”, 

Riddhi is assistant professor at a university in West Bengal. She has a physical disability and is a wheelchair user. One of her main worries is that hospitals do not have the accessible infrastructure required for persons with disabilities. “People think it’s enough by putting a ramp. Every person has different needs and you can’t just provide general facilities. What will happen to me if I’m infected with COVID-19?”, she wonders. Riddhi says that there is no guidelines for persons with disabilities or provisions and she is not aware of any specific recommendations for hospitals on how to provide services to patients with disabilities. “There is a general lack of awareness and knowledge. People don’t know how to interact with us”, she says. Riddhi explains that disability assistance is not seen as an essential requirement. “Disability hasn’t been mentioned in relations to COVID-19. The government hasn’t acknowledged there is an issue”, she says.

Moreover, public transport is not accessible, and she has to arrange her own means of transport, such as private cars or uber, which are hardly available. “What will happen to me if I’m in need of emergency care? How do I reach the hospital?”, she wonders. Ambulances are not accessible either.

As a woman with a disability, Riddhi has often experienced discrimination. She continues working remotely and taking part in meetings online, where she is perceived to be a person with a lot of free time with no responsibilities. “As my colleagues are busy doing household tasks, they assume I have more free time and have increased my workload, by giving me more assignments”, she says.

Like Reyansh, the confinement has had high impact on Riddhi’s mental health. “I’m confined in my room and that is very frustrating. People can go to rooftops or balconies but I can’t because they are not accessible”, she says. Sneha believes there is not enough awareness regarding mental health and there is still prejudice and stigma around it. “Many don’t think that mental health condition is just a health condition like other health challenges, and it can happen to anyone at any time”, she says. Riddhi had to take private counselling as she doesn’t think the government provisions such as a helpline would help. The news about high number of deaths have undermined her sleeping patterns and emotional stability.