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COVID-19 and people with disabilities

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M Ahmad
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a pandemic due to the speed and scale of transmission. It is a global public health emergency affecting millions of people around the world.
Most people with disabilities are not inherently at higher risk for becoming infected with or having severe illness from COVID-19. However, some people with disabilities might be at a higher risk of infection or severe illness. Evidences suggests that COVID-19 pandemic may have certain greater risks on the disability populations, for various reasons as discussed below:
1. Due to a range of barriers like poor public health facilities, unsanitary conditions and unhygienic facilities.
2. Due to difficulty in enacting physical distancing because of additional support needs and relying on caretakers.
3. Due to need to touch things to obtain information about the objects around as in case of Visually Impaired individuals.
4. Due to exacerbation of pre-existing mental health conditions as a result and anxiety about contracting COVIED-19.
5. Due to financial pressures, long periods of social isolation, family pressures and conflicts.
6. Due to language communication difficulty of health care workers as in case of Hearing and Speech Impaired individuals.
7. Due to being left behind by care takers who are quarantined or fearful of infection of COVID-19.
8. Due to non-wearing of face masks due to medical conditions especially disabled individual with Asthma disease.
These impacts can be mitigated if following simple actions and protective measures are taken by stakeholders
1. Ensure that assistive products, if used, are disinfected frequently; these include wheelchairs, walking canes, walkers, transfer boards, white canes, or any other product that is frequently handled and used in public spaces.
2. Ensure to follow SOP guidelines like washing of hands frequently with soap, use of sanitizers and hand gloves etc.
3. Be indoors as much as possible.
4. If you rely on caregivers, consider increasing the pool of those you can call upon, in preparation of one or more becoming unwell or needing to self-isolate.
5. Make sure everybody in your household knows what they should do should you contract COVID-19 or require assistance.
6. Know the telephone number of relevant health services and hotlines, should you have questions or require non-urgent medical assistance.
7. Make sure to go for Vaccination all along with the care takers.
The Government machinery should undertake targeted measures for people with disabilities and their support networks in COVID-19 Pandemic.
8. Make sure that the physical environment is suitable and physical distancing is taken into consideration at the best.
(The author is Principal (I/C), Abhedananda Home, Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-abled Children, Rambagh)

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