Spare a thought, act, for persons with disabilities

Saturday May 2 2020

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While everyone is affected, there are those in our society who are having it worse than the others. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

RWANDA TODAY
By RWANDA TODAY
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The ongoing pandemic has significantly changed our way of life, pushing us into staying at home to help contain the spread of the coronavirus but in the process forcing the economy to grind to a halt.

While everyone is affected, there are those in our society who are having it worse than the others.

Take women and girls, for example. They are being exposed to gender-based violence. Experts say the lockdown may trigger heightened social anxiety in the home and communities thereby resulting in increased parental frustration and different types of violence either toward children or as part of intimate partner violence.

Women and older girls are often the caregivers in a family and have increased burden and exposure should a family member be infected with Covid-19.

Some women and young girls also have limited access to sanitary pads. In the absence of gender sensitive intersectional responses, different forms of systemic discrimination already faced by women and girls will be exacerbated.

Worse still, there is limited information on what is being done to assist people with disabilities with the guidance and support needed to protect them during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, even though many of them are part of the high-risk group.

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People with disabilities feel they have been left behind. Yet containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bathe; support which is basic for their survival.

There is a need to pay special attention to the needs of people with disabilities to reduce the risk of them and their families falling into greater vulnerability or poverty.

Persons with disabilities need reassurance that their survival is a priority and we urge states to establish clear protocols for public health emergencies to ensure that, when medical resources are scarce, access to healthcare, including life-saving measures, does not discriminate against people with disabilities.

To face the pandemic, it is crucial that information about how to prevent and contain the coronavirus is accessible to everyone. The ongoing public advice campaigns and information must be made available to the public in sign language and accessible means, including accessible digital technology, captioning, relay services, text messages, easy-to-read and plain language.

In recent weeks, the government has rolled out e- learning programmes as well as made learning material available on television and radio.

Unfortunately, most people living with disabilities have limited access to these resources. While government officials expect parents and caretakers for people with disabilities to assist them during the lockdown, the current environment makes it difficult. In addition to the specific, short time measures, the crisis is an opportunity to address structural inequalities and discrimination in our society.

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