The pandemic has impacted all our lives whether in terms getting infected by the coronavirus or indirectly in terms of facing economic distress. However, when we stand united fighting the health crisis it is important to acknowledge that many of us may be more vulnerable than the rest.
As per Census 2011, 2.68 crore Indians are ‘disabled’ which is 2.21 percent of the total population. India has ratified the ‘UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ in 2007. The Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016 has also been enacted in accordance with the UN guidelines.
It is important to include the needs and concerns of persons with disability at all stages of disaster management, especially while we are planning and preparing for any impending disaster. It has been found that doing so not only reduces the vulnerability of the ‘differently-abled’ person but also helps authorities to execute their actions effectively. However as per an UNDESA report most countries have failed to do so and India is no exception.
The first ‘National Conference on Disability Inclusive Disaster Management’ was recently organized bythe National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), India’s apex disability rights organization, on April 20. The conference was held in association with National Disability Network, Disaster Management Authorities and Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.
Addressing the conference, Arman Ali, the executive director of NCPEDP said, “The COVID disaster has laid bare two critical facts – the necessity of effective disaster management systems, and the gaps in the working of these systems in reaching persons with disabilities.“
“It is key to make the best use of the current situation to ensure persons with disabilities are not left out and Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction Guidelines are implemented. Emphasis needs to be laid on collaborative efforts between the Government, Civil Society and persons with disabilities,” he added.
India is adapting to make our institutions, policies and governance infrastructure accessible to all. The State Disability Commissioners present at the conference highlighted the several good practices inculcated in recent years. Timely translation of the Central and State guidelines related to COVID-19 in an accessible format, preparing SOPs as per individual needs of different disabilities, having a dedicated helpline for the hearing impaired with the facility of sign language interpreter are some of them.
The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has launched the Accessible India Campaign to make a barrier free and conducive environment for ‘Divyangs’ all across India.
Article 41 of our Constitution states that the state shall make effective provision for securing right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, within the limits of its economic capacity and development. India is taking rapid strides to fulfilling its constitutional obligation. However, a lot more work needs to be done and this ongoing health crisis offers a unique opportunity to strengthen the goals.