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The covid-19 pandemic has meant a tough year for many. In Europe, while we still face new challenges from emerging variants we have nevertheless benefited from economies and social policies that can offer some measure of protection to those who are most vulnerable.

As international development practitioners, our natural inclination is to look beyond Europe’s borders to the experiences of people whose health systems and social protection mechanisms are less resilient than our own.

Adjust and Respond’ applies its focus to the specific experience of organisations working with people with disabilities in adapting to the covid-19 pandemic. It offers recommendations to support United Nations agencies and government structures to plan and respond better to the challenges experienced by people with disabilities, and the challenges ahead. The report also illustrates how local and international development organisations adjusted their ways of working and programming to continue project delivery despite the circumstances.

Case studies include the experience of EU-CORD member Dorcas who mobilised communities, local organisations, and the government to reach older people and people with mobilities disabilities, who were unable to reach health centres, highlighting the importance of home care support.

Lead author Dr. Amita Bhakta has analysed data from IDDC members and their partners to identify seven key recommendations:

  1. Ensure that COVID-19 vaccinations are available in free or low-cost targeted programmes to all people including people with disabilities and support networks of their choice. Receiving a COVID-19 vaccination must be based on free and informed consent of persons with disabilities.
  2. Provide accessible information. Persons with disabilities have been unable to access vital information about COVID-19 on an equal basis with others. Government and UN agencies should publish and share their information in accessible formats, all the more when people’s safety is at stake. Accessible formats mean that shared materials are accessible online for persons using screen reader software, and presentation materials are accessible using universal design elemental and additional formats, such as the use of sign languages, Easy Read, plain language, captioned media, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and other accessible means.
  3. Engage meaningfully with civil society at all levels. Where engagement with national and local authorities and international organisations took place, activities aimed at supporting people with disabilities have been facilitated and helped, at least to a certain extent, mitigate the pandemic impact on their daily life. Engagement with the civil society should be further reinforced and capacity building provided to grassroots O PDs to support their participation.
  4. Guarantee full participation, meaningful involvement, and leadership of people with disabilities and their representative organisations at every stage of planning and decision-making processes in COVID-19 responses, including recovery. More generally, people with disabilities and organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs) should be meaningfully involved in the design and implementation of any public policies and programmes, not just those targeting specifically disability. Intersectionality between disability, gender, race, poverty, etc. is indeed often overlooked leading to non-inclusive policies.
  5. Evaluate the implementation of the COVID-19 responses, their shortcomings and successes in terms of inclusion, in order to set guidelines for future emergency action plans. The lack of preparedness to face a pandemic such as COVID-19 led to major disruptions in services, discrimination, human rights abuses and reversed hard-won progress for people with disabilities. The pandemic has highlighted the need for disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction (DDR) strategies to strengthen countries’ preparedness to address future crises. DRR strategies shall be disability-inclusive and take into account the diverse and individual needs of persons with disabilities, in particular, those experiencing intersectional forms of discrimination and marginalisation, such as women and girls with disabilities or children with disabilities. When developing their D RR strategies, authorities shall include provisions on social protection measures including basics such as food and medicine, lockdown, limitations to education, livelihoods, and social outlets as well as access to wider services, investment in accessible ICTs.
  6. Allocate adequate financial and human resources to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind in the COVID-19 recovery process and beyond. Donors should provide some level of flexibility to enable the redirection of allocated unused financial resources to allow CSOs and OPDs to respond to emergencies such as pandemics and provide immediate support to people with disabilities.
  7. Support and carry out global, regional and national data collection, capacity building and disaggregation of data by disability in all relevant sectors, including but not limited to the sectors of healthcare, education, employment. Ensuring that no one is being left behind, especially in times of crisis such as a pandemic, requires having an exact picture of the existing gaps and the most marginalised populations based on updated, qualitative and comparable statistics. As a minimum standard and recognising the existing capacities of national statistical systems, we recommend using the Washington Group Short Set of Questions and the Washington Group/UNICEF Child functioning model for SDG data disaggregation as a basis for data collection.

EU-CORD is a member of the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) and contributing editor of  the ‘Adjust and Respond’ report.

Read or download the full report: Adjust and Respond

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