A Disability-Inclusive Response to Covid-19

Elizabeth Quinn

26th June 2020


Persons with disabilities have been one of the most affected groups in the Covid-19 crisis. The question now is how to rebuild in order to recover from the crisis in an inclusive way.


Covid-19 has thrown into the spotlight the inequalities which persist in today’s world. It has, in particular, highlighted the inequalities faced by persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are both directly and indirectly impacted by lockdown measures, which have been implemented across the globe. Beyond these challenges, there is a fear that measures may become long term for persons with disabilities and prevent them from accessing and participating in society on equal footing as others. How we rebuild and allow for an inclusive society is a question which must be answered. The future is uncertain; plans for the future must have human rights at their core.


The UN has highlighted that a global response which is inclusive of persons with disabilities is needed. The most authoritative text on disability rights is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This convention takes a human rights approach and aligns with the social model of disability. Under this model, the person’s disability is not what disables them but rather the barriers, structures and attitudes present in society. For example, in the Covid-19 response, some countries did not provide access to information in a manner which would be accessible to persons with disabilities. This is society, rather than the impairment itself providing barriers. Ireland ratified the CRPD in 2018; therefore our responses and plans should align with the human rights approach.


In order to create an inclusive response for persons with disabilities, a twin-track approach is needed. This means that persons with disabilities should be included in mainstream policies and specific policies where required. Ireland has one of the lowest rate of employment for people with disabilities in the EU. Latest figures showed that 71% of adults of working age with a disability are not in work in Ireland. Although it is acknowledged that some people cannot work due to the nature of their disability there are social barriers in place also such as lack of government support.


“Persons with disabilities have been one of the most affected groups in the Covid-19 crisis. The question now is how to rebuild in order to recover from the crisis in an inclusive way.” 

Covid-19 has also thrown into light the dangers that institutionalisation causes. We are all aware of the disproportionate deaths in elderly care facilities and residential homes for persons with disabilities worldwide. Although the focus in Ireland has been on elderly care facilities this ignores the fact that worldwide an estimated 46% of older people aged 60 years and over are persons with disabilities. Thus the intersection of age and disability should be accounted for and borne in mind in recovery efforts. The regrettable stark death rate in facilities should encourage a conversation discussing the way forward of deinstitutionalisation and moving together in redefining how long term care is provided. A.19 of the CRPD states that persons with disabilities should be able to live in the community on an equal basis with others and supports need to be in place to enable them to live independently. In Ireland, these supports are not currently in place now and need to be improved upon. 


Accountability mechanisms are needed in order to hold governments to account and to improve future responses. These future responses should align more clearly and robustly with the CRPD.  This includes gathering data and consulting persons with disabilities on the approaches the government has taken. With the lack of data at present, it is very difficult to gauge the precise effects of Covid-19 on persons with disabilities. In the absence of government monitoring, a coalition of seven leading organisations promoting human rights of persons of disabilities has set up an independent monitoring mechanism concerning persons with disabilities in the context of the pandemic. The Covid-19 DRM Dashboard allows people to fill in a survey on how their country has dealt with the pandemic and whether it has been in an inclusive manner. It also allows persons with disabilities to have a voice on the way in which their country is dealing with the pandemic. This resource will allow countries to look at where they failed and how to improve and create an inclusive policy for the future.


The response to Covid-19 will shape our future and must include persons with disabilities voices. In Ireland, the programme for government must take into an account an inclusive recovery and support persons with disabilities. These commitments must not just be words on paper and need also to have financial commitments. Economics cannot and should not outweigh human rights. A financial crisis must not be used as a tool by the government to roll back on rights for persons with disabilities which have been fought hard for. A disability-inclusive recovery is needed for everyone to make our systems more agile and better functioning for all.



Featured photo by Ben Allan




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