We must make the COVID-19 response inclusive for people with disabilities. Here’s how.

Andrea Pregel, May 2020

It is extremely worrying to hear how people with disabilities are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 as so many are being entirely missed out in response measures.

Experts have come up with many solutions to end this crisis, but the large amount of information can be overwhelming. At Sightsavers, we have created simple programmatic guidelines using the most reliable recommendations.

If you are an organisation working to support the COVID-19 pandemic response, here are our top nine tips to ensure people with disabilities are not left behind.

You can also read the full guidelines.

1. Factor in the differences

Think about how factors such as age, type of disability, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, location and other factors might play out in this crisis.

2. Find the gaps

Identify the unfulfilled needs of people with disabilities by doing a rapid gap analysis. You can do this by contacting disability groups and advocates so they can help you identify the gaps across key areas in your country, such as access to healthcare and essential services or accessible information.

While respecting social distancing you can do this over the phone, Skype or SMS polls to gather feedback.

3. Amplify the voices of people with disabilities

It is crucial that people with disabilities can share their experiences and concerns with the wider world. Try to involve the local community and engage with the media to ensure their stories are heard.

People with disabilities are experts in their own inclusion. Consider supporting the many disability groups that are already asking their governments to make the COVID-19 response inclusive.

If you are adapting your interventions to support the pandemic response, ensure you are involving people with disabilities to shape decisions and help oversee the delivery and monitoring process. Where national COVID-19 task forces are being created, also ensure people with disabilities are involved.

A coalition of six disability rights organisations, including the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC), has launched the COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor in 15 languages, which anyone can complete. The tool will help identify common issues faced by people with disabilities to inform national and global policy around the world. You can invite those you work with to fill it in.

Woman pushing child in wheelchair

Including people with disabilities in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

Read the full practical recommendation for development partners, drawn from key resources and guidance developed by Sightsavers’ technical teams.

Read the full guidance
Husband and wife, with two children, stand outside their home.
Julius and his wife Najiiba, former participants of Sightsavers' Connecting the Dots programme, with their children outside their home in Masindi, Uganda.

4. Make life-saving information accessible

Many people with disabilities are missing out on vital information about handwashing, social distancing, financial support and available health services because official messages are not being made in accessible formats. This is putting thousands of lives at risk, but could be easily fixed.

Support your government and other decision makers to make COVID-19 information accessible on all platforms by using video captioning, audio recordings, braille, sign language interpreters, large print, local languages and dialects, plain language and pictorial information.

Collaborate with local and national mental health service providers to produce resources on mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Try to sensitise governments and media outlets to the fact that people with disabilities are a significant and substantial part of their audience.

Take a look at the IDA and IDDC’s campaign here.

5. Make healthcare and other services accessible

Some people with disabilities are more likely to develop serious illness when contracting COVID-19 and others rely on health services that may be disrupted during the COVID-19 outbreak.

There are many ways you can campaign to make healthcare more inclusive and accessible, from ensuring treatment protocols at hospitals do not discriminate based on disability, to giving health workers knowledge of how to treat people with disabilities who contract COVID-19. Find out the many other ways in our full guidance.

6. Livelihoods and social protection

People with disabilities, women in particular, are more likely to suffer financially during the COVID-19 outbreak, as they are more likely to be unemployed or self-employed and less likely to have access to social and labour protection mechanisms.

You can promote remote working and reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities and allowing priority access to food and essential items across shops and marketplaces.

You should advocate with governments to ensure disability benefits programmes are not disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students using assistive technology with a teacher using a wheelchair.
Visually impaired students using accessible technology at a resource centre in Ranchi, India. ©WHO / Noor / Arko Datto

7. Education

It is essential that disabled people’s organisations are involved in the design of distance education programmes to ensure children with disabilities have access to appropriate learning materials, and their families are supported with clear information and access to essential items.

When schools reopen, children with disabilities must be provided with catch-up support, counselling and supplementary tuition to settle them back into an education setting and address any trauma they may have experienced during the pandemic.

8. Independent living and housing

Many people with disabilities have been evicted from rented houses, shelters, dormitories and other accommodations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Homeless people are also more likely to have disabilities and are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to barriers they face in society.

It is important to monitor and report violations of the rights of people with disabilities to secure housing and advocate for the suspension of rent payments. You can liaise with DPOs and other relevant stakeholders to prevent institutionalisation of people with disabilities due to a lack of support or because of self-isolation procedures, and identify suitable alternatives.

9. Generate evidence

Collecting evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, and their inclusion in the response, is crucial to ensure they are not left behind.

Consider qualitative and quantitative evidence and identify focus areas, such as the access to COVID-19 treatment for people with disabilities or evidence on the mental health impact of COVID-19.

Assist service providers to collect data on disability, including disability disaggregated data, using internationally validated tools, such as the Washington Group Question Sets.

Access the full guidance.


Andrea Pregel.Andrea Pregel
Andrea is a programme adviser at Sightsavers and is based in the UK.

Three women communicate using sign language.

“The response and recovery to COVID-19 is also an opportunity to rebuild fairer, more inclusive societies.”

Three women communicate using sign language.

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