POSITION PAPER BY ALBINISM SOCIETY OF BOTSWANA ON COVID-19 AND ITS IMPACT ON PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY
Although it infects indiscriminately, COVID-19’s fallout will inevitably impact people differently around the globe. Beyond immediate health risks, the pandemic’s ripple effect will compound and deepen the socio-economic challenges already faced by marginalized communities, especially in places where public officials have traditionally demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to consider their needs.
Persons with albinism have always struggled to access equitable health services, transportation, clean water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, but, in the time of COVID-19, this lack of access becomes life threatening. Little is currently being done to ensure information about the virus is being distributed in accessible formats or to engage people with disabilities in crisis-response decisions. Persons with disability face heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions. Persons with disabilities face specific barriers in carrying out their daily lives in the community due to COVID-19 response measures. In particular, stay at home restrictions that do not consider their needs create disruptions and new risks to their autonomy, health and lives.
Challenges of people with disability/ Albinism during COVID – 19 period:
- The lock – down has left them at high risk without access to food, essential goods and medicine, and prevented from carrying out basic daily activities such as bathing, cooking, or eating;
· Many persons with disabilities who rely on others for daily living (through formal support by service providers or informal support by relatives/friends) find themselves without support due to movement restrictions and physical distancing measures.
- Public information on COVID-19 measures is not systematically communicated nor disseminated in accessible formats and means to reach all persons with disabilities (e.g. sign language interpretation, captioning, Easy to Read format, etc).
- In addition, some persons with disabilities, such as persons with psychosocial disabilities and autistic persons, might not be able to cope with strict confinement at home. Short and careful outings throughout the day are key for them to cope with the situation.
- Persons with disabilities are less likely than others to be employed and when employed, they are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. As a consequence, they have less access to social insurance based on employment than others which decreases their economic resilience in the current COVID-19 context. For those who are employed or self-employed,20 they may be prevented from working from home due to the absence of equipment and support which are available in the workplace, and face increased risks of losing their income and job.
- In addition, COVID-19 measures may indirectly affect persons with disabilities by preventing family and bread-winners of the household from working, negatively impacting the overall income of the household. The lack of income represents a disproportionate burden on persons with disabilities and their households which typically face extra costs and expenditures related to disability (accessible housing and equipment, assistive devices, specific goods and services, etc), pulling them more rapidly into poverty.
- No COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group was established with the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to advise the government on disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps and strategies, measures and steps to be taken.
- Closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in framing a rights-based response to the pandemic that is inclusive of, and responsive to, persons with disabilities in all their diversity.
- Persons with disabilities are less likely than others to complete education, and more likely to be excluded altogether from schooling. Because of COVID-19, government has temporarily closed education institutions7 affecting all students, including students with disabilities. To reduce the impact of disruption in education, government is adopting remote learning practices. In these cases, however, students with disabilities are facing barriers on account of the absence of required equipment, access to internet, accessible materials and support necessary to permit them to follow online school programs. As a result, many students with disabilities are being left behind, particularly students with intellectual disabilities.
- Furthermore, students with disabilities are also negatively affected by other dimensions of school closures, including access to school meals and opportunities to engage in play and sports with their peers.
- Despite the above challenges, government has failed to:
- Provide space for people with albinism to exercise their voice and join in decisions that leave no one behind.
We therefore move that on behalf of people with albinism as well as those with various types of disability that government;
- Provide financial aid for persons with disabilities without any income (e.g. lump sum payments; tax relief measures, subsidization of goods, etc.).
- Increase existing disability benefits, including through advancing payments to cover extra costs.
- Extend automatically any soon-to-expire disability related entitlements.
- Provide financial compensation for self-employed persons with disabilities who find their income reduced.
- Implement financial assistance programmes for persons who stop working to support or to prevent contamination of their family member(s) with disabilities and who are not covered by unemployment or sickness benefits.
- Provide financial support, including through tax credits, to employers of persons with disabilities to provide equipment required for teleworking.
- Ensure that food provision schemes include persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs, including logistical measures to deliver food at their houses.
Sergeant ‘Yellowman’ Kgosietsile
Albinism Society of Botswana
+267 76645905 / +267 73685469