The World Health Organization (WHO), which is at the helm of the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, or Covid-19, estimated about one billion people of the world’s population of about 15 percent, suffers from some form of disability. This is not an ignorable figure.
As stated by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, persons with disabilities (PWD,s) refer to persons suffering from long-term mental, physical or sensory damages, which can become a hindrance to their interaction to society and can result in unequal treatment from the community.
In my own understanding, disability is referred to as an impairment to one’s body, whether it be physical or mental. And this impairment hinders one from functioning fully in doing day-to-day activities. Disability refers to low vision, blindness, locomotor disability, hearing impairment, and mental health issues.
The Republic Act No. 7277 or the “Magna Carta for Disabled Persons” is solely dedicated to the welfare of disabled persons in the Philippines. Thus, disabled persons are considered a large minority group. They are the ones who usually feel being starved of services and mostly ignored by society. They generally live in isolation, segregation, poverty, charity, and even pity. As understood by the definition of “disability,” PWD’s already face great challenges in performing even simple daily tasks at home or in the community. Physical disabilities limit their capacity to move, for example, with those who have lost a limb or have spinal cord injuries or arthritis. According to experts, people with disabilities have a higher possibility of developing mental health problems. They have higher rates of health issues, including chronic conditions and weakened immune systems. Many people with disabilities rely on support and assistance from family members, caregivers, and support workers.
How does COVID-19 impact people with disabilities? While all members of society have been threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities are extremely affected because of their pre-existing health conditions. They are considered among the high-risk and vulnerable groups, and these make them more susceptible to contracting the virus, experiencing more severe symptoms upon infection, and leading to elevated levels of death.
According to experts, there are exceptional stressors and challenges that could worsen mental health for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Researches on pandemics show that disabled people find it tougher to access needed medical supplies, which can become scarce during the crisis. With the lockdown orders, some persons with disabilities tend to be more socially distanced and isolated compared to non-disabled ones. There’s a high possibility that their feelings of solitude or being alone will be heightened because of the orders of physical distancing. And due to these orders, it can possibly result in worsening of their mental health. Researches show that social isolation and loneliness are associated with increases in heart disease, dementia, and other health problems.
Many people are now advocating that this COVID-19 emergency shall be addressed with the necessary mental health protection measures, as well as economic and social actions, for the most vulnerable groups, like the PWD’s. Around the world, advocacy organizations and coalitions of disability rights recently made an urgent call for an immediate response from the United Nations (UN), addressing the specific needs of persons with disabilities to stabilize their mental and physical health, dignity, safety, and independence during this COVID 19 pandemic. With all the challenges that we are facing because of this outbreak, let us not allow this pandemic to further cause damage in our mental health, especially for persons with disabilities. We need to ensure that the PWD’s are not left behind and discriminated against in the course of the COVID-19 response and recovery.