Living in a pandemic is tough. The overall status of health determines the vulnerability of getting infected and subsequently the chances of recovery and survival. Thousands of persons living with disability struggle every day to negotiate the odd challenges for survival. Physical and mental ailments of various forms deny them the privilege to enjoy the blessings that physically and mentally abled people do. In the present pandemic, the sufferings of persons with disability have only doubled due to lockdown restrictions.
Access to basic institutional services has become cumbersome for general public and has almost turned impossible for person with disabilities. Those completely dependent on public transport to reach out to health care facilities supported by wheel chairs, crutches or assistance of a helper are home bound now. Disability already distances them from the centre stage of society. The practice of social distancing has now turned into a double disadvantage.
Some persons with disabilities have lifetime dependence on drugs to cope with their chronic illness. Most psychiatric disorders require uninterrupted doses of medicine to keep the behaviour of such patients under control. Left on their own, without care and medication, exposes them to fatal risks of self-harm and accidents. The cost of roaming freely has already proved lethal in some recent incidents.
Reports and data on incidents of domestic violence during the lockdown have revealed an increasing trend. In most of these cases women, minor children and persons with disabilities have become the victim of physical, verbal and emotional assault. Add to this some heinous episodes of physical and sexual abuse too. Owing to the limitations faced by persons with disability, most of their ordeal gets unreported and unnoticed.
Poor households headed by elderly persons with disability are facing extreme hardships. With no source of income to feed their families, begging turned out to be a compulsion and the only option to survive. Being indoors for months due to restrictions, begging too has become impossible. Thus poverty and pandemic further pushes and punishes them to suffer painfully.
The limited space of socialization that persons with disability enjoyed is currently encroached by the pandemic fear. Obviously, they are irritated and agitated in this corona crisis. Such persons are in need of additional dose of love and care. Family members and relatives must be more compassionate and empathetic towards their needs and expectations. It is palpable that their disability may force them to behave differently; acceptance and warmth in our attitude can provide them with much needed cushion of solace and support.
As for the education of children with disability is concerned, the scanty avenues and opportunities stand closed. The hype of online teaching presumed to be a parallel platform of learning for students is of no use for children with disabilities. Provision of specialized and inclusive environment for learners with special needs is a distant dream. Corona crisis has totally left children in need of support abandoned and alienated from the landscape of learning.
Most important challenge faced by persons with disability is social stigma that society has imposed upon them. The ramifications of social stigma associated with disability are reflected in direct and disguised forms of indifference, apathy, avoidance, verbal and nonverbal forms of social disapproval. Such approach and attitude propagates despicable practices that are totally inhumane and unjust. This social evil that has grown in the backyard of our society must be uprooted to allow persons with disability live a dignified life.
Social security measures like a nominal monthly pension from government institutions along with free and subsidized ration items keeps their hopes alive. They need substantial support from community to meet other essential requirements especially the medication costs.
Disability is both congenital and accidental. It is a matter of good fortune for an able bodied and able minded person to come to the rescue of person with disability. Accidents arrive without any intimation and at times are too brutal and cruel in imposing disability. We never know. So humility lies in being humble and helpful towards persons with disability.
Information, updates and advisories are constantly issued in public interest by the concerned authorities. Disability becomes a big deterrent for persons with mental illness, visual and aural impairments to benefit from such vital directives. This again adds to their disadvantage and vulnerability. In this regard, use of sign language to interpret such crucial communication for deaf and dumb persons will be highly useful.
Preparing a data base of persons with disability within the locality is imperative. This will ease the access in identifying and reaching out to them during any crisis. Barrier free counseling services need to be made available for them and their care givers to properly and passionately deal with them.
Public level awareness and educational programmes must integrate and include the specific concerns confronted by such people. Community based rehabilitation and protection must be explored and implemented for instant assistance. Letting them beg due to challenging circumstances and compulsions puts a question mark on our collective responsibility.
Corona pandemic is forcing us to accept and adapt to the new reality of living. Persons with disability should not be left alone, or abandoned in this unavoidable transition. They are our own brethren who belong to our society. They deserve unconditional love and warmth. All forms of assistance for such needy persons should be parceled with compassion and delivered with dignity.
Bilal Kaloo is Assistant Professor, Department of Education, South Campus – University of Kashmir