Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities: What are you doing?

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders — from around the world and all parts of society — address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Wherever you read this from, you may notice activities around you, online or in your organisations to mark this day. Usually, 3 December is a time for the disability movement to gather with our allies and to campaign for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities around the world: for equal rights, equal opportunities and genuine inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. This year, however, our lives have been taken over by the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, as the second wave of the pandemic surges through much of the world, most of these activities will be online.

In this article, I would like to bring one crucial point across to my readers. In the field of COVID-19, I would like to impress upon you the importance of considering how your work reaches children and adults with disabilities.

The action taken in many countries by governments has not considered the circumstances of persons with disabilities.

COVID-19 has tested all of our systems and found them wanting. When public health announcements were made issuing lockdowns and quarantines, we consistently found that these new regulations were not sufficiently explained or accessible to persons with disabilities. When ordinary services and facilities were closed, services for persons with disabilities were also closed, leaving them often in severe isolation. Because of the rationing of healthcare, persons with disabilities were told in many cases that they would not be a priority for healthcare intervention and may be denied treatment. Throughout this year, persons with disabilities have been ignored and sidelined by public health authorities and governments.

When schools closed, and went online what happened to children with disabilities? How do we act to support a group who have been so marginalised in this pandemic that there is no data being collected on their experiences? If they were missing before, what will happen now? When parents needed to homeschool and work simultaneously, what kind of support did they have to support their children’s education at home? What if their children have specific accessibility requirements? As the economic toll of the pandemic stretches out ahead of us, who will face the brunt of unemployment?

Resilience and Strength Shine Brightest: COVID-19 recovery offers the chance to create a more just, compassionate and sustainable economy for history’s largest generation of youth by Jayathma Wickramanayake, Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, United Nations

Disability-discrimination and societal barriers increase the impact of COVID-19 on the health, livelihood and well-being of persons with disabilities. Why? There are many reasons. Many people with disabilities are forced to live in closed and segregated settings. Some persons with disabilities use personal assistants for daily activities or sign language interpreters for communication. Some have health conditions related to their disability. We know that public health information has not be fully inclusive and accessible. Further, the action taken in many countries by governments has not considered the circumstances of persons with disabilities, meaning that many have faced more months of isolation and further segregation as other parts of the population were catered to.

Today, on 3 December, I would like to ask you as a reader: in the work that you are doing today, how does it reach persons with disabilities? In every community you address, there are persons with disabilities – 1 billion globally. Is the survey or website you are designing fully accessible? If you are a country that takes part in the OECD’s PISA survey, are you ensuring children with disabilities are represented? Is the research you are doing paying attention to the lived experience of persons with disabilities from different disability groups and in all their diversity (women and girls, ethnic and religious minorities, young and older)? Are you gathering disaggregated data to see how people with disabilities are affected by your programmes?

Please consider today and in the future how your work includes persons with disabilities and serves their interests. If you are in doubt about the action you should take to ensure this, please reach out to and consult with organisations of persons with disabilities around you and they may be happy to join forces with you. Your collaboration with the disability movement will strengthen your work and make our world more inclusive.

Related topics

Tackling COVID-19 Child Well-being

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Yannis Vardakastanis

President, European Disability Forum

Ioannis Vardakastanis was born on the Greek island of Zakynthos in 1957. He is a political scientist. Throughout his life he has been a human rights campaigner, active at national, European and international level. His involvement in social movements started from the Greek movement of the blind. In 1986, at the early age of 29, he was elected President of the Panhellenic Association of the Blind, whereas from 1992 to 2013 he was the head of the international relations department of the same Association. He is the President of the National Confederation of Disabled People of Greece (N.C.D.P.), which is the umbrella organization of the Greek disability movement, since 1993. He is the President of the European Disability Forum (EDF), the umbrella organization of the European disability movement since 1999.