With the leadership and help of some dedicated disabled persons and their organizations, the Central Government has invoked Section 8 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 and has issued guidelines to the States and local authorities for the protection and safety of persons with disabilities during the Covid-19 epidemic and the 21-day national lockdown. The guidelines, issued last Thursday, provide for a range of measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to essential support services like caregiver support, and that supplies and medical aid are available at their doorstep, given the severe restrictions imposed on the movement of people.
“….As a group of men and boys, some disabled and hobbling on makeshift crutches (emphasis added), walked along the highway toward the soup kitchen, police officers suddenly began beating them with bamboo sticks. “Maintain social distance!” they yelled….”
From “India’s Coronavirus Lockdown Leaves Vast Numbers Stranded and Hungry”, The New York Times, March 29, 2020
Significantly, the guidelines state that caregivers of persons with disabilities should be allowed to reach them by exempting the caregivers from restrictions during lockdown or providing passes in a simplified manner on priority. Persons with disabilities should be given priority in treatment, and special care should be taken in respect of children and women with disabilities. They should be given access to essential food, water, medicine, and, to the extent possible, such items should be delivered at their residence. Additional protective measures should be taken for persons with disabilities based on their impairment who need to travel during the emergency period and the authorities should be sensitized for their personal safety and protection (emphasis added). A 24X7 helpline number at State Level should be set up exclusively for persons with disabilities with facilities of sign language interpretation and video calling.
For their implementation, the guidelines also require the States to declare the Disability Commissioner and the responsible social welfare officer in each District to be the State and District level nodal authority respectively for resolving disability specific issues during the crisis period.
What now needs to be done
It is therefore critical that the Disability Commissioners in each State issue directions forthwith to all State and local authorities dealing with exigencies arising out of Covid-19, as well as to the police, to ensure that persons with disabilities within their jurisdiction have access to essential support services, supplies and medical aid at their doorstep, given the severe restrictions imposed on the movement of people. The Directors General / Commissioners of Police, should take appropriate action as per the guidelines, especially that caregivers should be allowed to reach persons with disabilities by exempting them from restrictions during lockdown or providing passes in a simplified manner on priority.