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For People with Disabilities, COVID-19 Lays Bare the Weaknesses in Social Safety Nets — Global Issues

Prosthetic leg fitting at the office of Saint Lucia’s National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities – the first prosthetic limb manufacturing centre in the Eastern Caribbean Credit:Alison Kentish/IPS
  • by Alison Kentish (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service
  • The 14th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was held this week, with participants urging policymakers to address the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on people with disabilities.

At the start of the pandemic, lockdowns, curfews, disruptions in transportation and a halt in tourism sent economies spiralling. In the Caribbean, people with disabilities began experiencing severe delays in public and disability assistance.

“They were relatively small amounts that a lot of people with disabilities rely on to purchase food and other essential supplies, so if this was delayed imagine the great strain and the hardship that it placed on people. It proved that if during times of crisis our social safety nets cannot function, there is a lot of work to be done,” President of Saint Lucia’s National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities, Merphilus James told IPS.

James, who is also the President of Disabled People’s International North America and the Caribbean is also calling for a review of public assistance for people with disabilities.

“Most of our members rely on these payments, which in most cases are not reflective of the current cost of living,” he said, noting that the United Nations Social Policy Brief on the Disability Inclusive Response to COVID-19 recommends advanced disbursement of public assistance grants, to ensure people with disabilities have time to procure food other supplies.

“It’s inexcusable to have delays in the payments of public assistance stipends in times like these.”

Governments were able to streamline the payment process and for countries like Saint Lucia, donations were received from religious groups, supermarket chains and the National Emergency Management Organisation.

UN officials say lessons like these underscore the importance of protecting people with disabilities in emergencies.

The 14th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities took place over three days this week, guided by the theme, “Building back better: COVID-19 response and recovery; Meeting the needs, Realising the rights and Addressing the socio-economic impacts on persons with disabilities.”

“Persons with disabilities are among those most adversely impacted by the pandemic, with disproportionate loss of lives and impact on health as well as livelihoods,” said Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with support from the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and UN Women, recently undertook a series of case studies on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

The results have been described as ‘discouraging.’

“Once again, studies demonstrate that persons with disabilities are being left behind. Be it with regard to equal access to healthcare, social protection, data collection, participation, information and international response, or in terms of the situation of those living in institutionalised settings,” the Assistant Secretary-General said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over one billion people live with some form of disability.

UN officials said this week that COVID-19 has shown the rest of the world what people with disabilities know all too well – isolation, mobility restrictions and challenges accessing basic services. They are hoping that this shared experience has taught important lessons about the impact of exclusion from community life.

One of the areas officials say is in urgent need of reform is access to employment.

The International Labour Organisation, in a landmark report, calculated ‘the price of excluding people with disabilities from the workplace.’ It’s researchers concluded that countries forfeit between three and seven percent of Gross Domestic Product when they omit this pillar of workplace mainstreaming.

James is hoping that employers heed the pandemic’s lessons on remote education and work.

“If we are to empower our people, we must provide them with portable, credible certification through education, so that they are more marketable and can earn a meaningful income. This requires that governments invest in more reliable, affordable internet on small island nations like Saint Lucia. That is crucial. We have a right to information,” he said.

“Ensuring that there is greater employment of people with disabilities is just good business. It is good for the economy and COVID-19 has proven how easy it is for people to work from home and be extremely productive.”

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. It covers a range of issues including access to buildings, education and health. It also addresses stigma and discrimination.

Earlier this year, the WHO adopted a landmark resolution on disability that vowed to develop a report on the highest attainable standard of health for persons with disabilities by the end of 2022.

One of the key messages from this week’s meetings is the need to frankly assess how people with disabilities were treated and impacted during a public health crisis. Panelists stressed the need to applaud what went right and address the wrongs such as people with disabilities appearing to be afterthoughts, delayed, yet urgently-needed financial and other support, as well as the impacts of prolonged, heightened isolation.

“It is crucial that we do not just fix what was broken, but that we take an innovative approach to truly implementing pioneering suggestions. COVID-19 has proven that we need to create systems that are not so fragile if we are to cope well in the future against such pandemics,” says James.

© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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