Sightsavers from the field

Supporting people with disabilities in India during COVID-19

May 2020
People sit outside in small groups and listen to a trainer.

When states across India announced a sudden lockdown in March due to COVID-19, many people struggled to support themselves as businesses closed and services came to a halt.

People – particularly women – with disabilities are most at risk, not just of transmission of COVID-19, but of being left out of government responses to the pandemic. They may be unable to get vital medications they need, social distancing rules may mean they  miss out on carers’ visits, and people with visual and hearing impairments may not receive important government messages if they are not available in accessible formats.

Sightsavers staff around India are working hard to make sure that during the pandemic, nobody is excluded because of disability or gender. We meet two of the inspiring women who are ensuring people with disabilities get the support they need during this challenging time.

Someone on crutches shakes a man's hand.

No-one left behind

Sightsavers has provided guidance on ensuring people with disabilities are included in the COVID-19 response.

Read the guidance
A lady wearing a face covering speaks to a man in a wheelchair.
Neha has been making sure people with disabilities in her community are receiving the care they need.

Neha

Neha is leader of a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) from Hazaribag district, which receives many calls for support from people with disabilities. She has found that many women with disabilities are experiencing lots of problems due to social distancing. Some are dependent on a caretaker for daily activities and personal care and lack food support as they have no work and no income. This leads to a lot of stress and fear.

Neha was given leadership training through Sightsavers’ social inclusion programmes and now, at 26 years old, leads the Hazaribag DPO. In response to the lockdown, Neha started a digital platform and created a group on WhatsApp to connect people with disabilities so they can share their problems and emotions. Through the group, Neha has been able to convey specific needs to local authorities. She has also used the platform to provide regular government updates and health information on COVID-19, and has ensured that people with disabilities can access rations, support funds and cooked food.

Neha has also been doing continuous advocacy work with the district administration and is now a member of the Hazaribag District Voluntary Committee on COVID-19 response. And on top of all of this, she is actively involved in educating people with disabilities by doing skills assessments and social media engagement.

A lady with disabilities delivers masks to a clinic.
Savita has been making and delivering cloth masks for those in need.

Savita

Savita, who’s 24, was born with a physical disability and grew up in poverty in a remote village in Chhattisgarh, India. During her childhood, Savita struggled to understand why she was different from other children, but as the years passed, she decided to live life on her own terms and dictate her own future. She had ambitions to study, and having accomplished this – graduating without any support from her family members – Savita turned her focus towards working for the rights of people with disabilities. She joined the local DPO and was elected as its president in 2019.

Savita’s efforts during the COVID-19 crisis have been admirable. She has been making cloth masks for people in need, and she donated one month of her disability pension to the state COVID-19 relief fund. She has been working with other DPO leaders to provide financial assistance to people with serious and multiple disabilities in the region during the lockdown period. Under Savita’s leadership the DPO members have also helped the local administration in identifying people who need support (particularly people with disabilities) and distributing relief supplies.

“My contribution may seem small [compared to] large amounts being donated by others,” Savita says. “But I am hopeful that my donation will definitely contribute to fulfilling someone’s needs.” She adds that for as long as possible, she will continue to work for people in need, and she wants to help spread awareness about COVID-19 prevention among other people with disabilities.

A woman sits in a wheelchair wearing colourful clothes.

Including people with disabilities

We are calling on the United Nations and national governments to take urgent action on disability rights, which are being dangerously undermined during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Sign the petition

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