Let’s not forget people with disabilities during this pandemic

May 19, 2020

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Lockdowns and a lack of inclusive awareness materials are putting women and girls with disabilities, who are already vulnerable, at further risk.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic and ever since, heads of state all over the world have been putting in place measures to prevent the spread and effects of the pandemic on its citizens. The Government of Uganda is no exception. Recognising that this pandemic affects people differently, it is vital that governments take the circumstances of people with disabilities into consideration.

I’m writing this article on behalf of NUWODU, a women-led organisation that has been bringing together the voices of women and girls with disabilities in Uganda for over 20 years.  We are working in partnership with BRAC and Humanity & Inclusion, with funding from the Department for International Development, National Lottery Community Fund, Cartier Philanthropy and the Medicor Foundation,  to implement a three-year disability-inclusive Graduation project in Kiryandongo, Nwoya, Oyam and Gulu districts in Uganda.

Through this understanding, we can clearly foresee the adverse impacts of government directives on people with disabilities, especially women and girls. Of the one billion people with disabilities globally, 426 million in developing countries live below the poverty line. People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, and suffer discrimination, exclusion and violence. Here in Uganda, 12.4% of the population have a disability and 80% of people with disabilities live below the poverty line. They are especially vulnerable in remote, hard-to-reach areas.

For women and girls with disabilities, they face the reality of coping with the chaos of the COVID-19 outbreak with little or no access to public information, since they are not in a position to afford things like mobile phones and radios.

These are not the only challenges they face. Like everyone else, they are also lacking in protective gear, have no means of transport and lack basic needs such as food.

The mixed information being provided on COVID-19 alone is enough to put everyone in a state of confusion, but it has an even larger effect on women and girls with disabilities who are physically, mentally and emotionally unprepared for the consequences of the disease.

A NUWODU staff member using a megaphone to deliver messages on social distancing and hygiene.

The Government of Uganda is doing a great job implementing the directives from the Head of State, but they need to ensure their response is inclusive and recognises the needs of people with disabilities, especially during the lockdown.

The ban on public transport is a major blow to people with disabilities with pre-existing mobility difficulties. People with mental health challenges are already at risk from law enforcement aggressively implementing the lockdown and the lack of accessible public service announcements i.e., as pictorials or large print for those visually impaired. The national directives also curtail the limited independent living that people with disabilities have been enjoying to date.

Those of us who work in the disability sector worldwide are aware that the problems our work addresses will be exacerbated by COVID-19.  Further, the worst impacts of the pandemic will not be equally borne. As our country goes into lockdown, livelihoods will be swept away, the greater burden of care and domestic labour will fall to women, intersecting discriminations will conspire to erode health equity, economic resilience and compressed civil society space still further – and tragically, violence against women and girls will increase and will particularly affect women with disabilities.

I urge governments to join hands with partners and disabled persons organisations to scale up support, especially for women and girls with disabilities. People with disabilities need particular support to:

  •   Receive protective gear and hand sanitisers, as their often limited movement puts them at risks of exposure to the virus because they touch many surfaces, door locks and depend on other people for support. This also makes it difficult for them to maintain social distancing.
  •   Fill the coronavirus prevention information gaps for the hearing and visually impaired through higher accessibility.
  •   Fulfill basic domestic needs and welfare that they are unable to access after the ban on public transport
  •   Regain access to essential services such as healthcare
  •   Create awareness and sensitisation materials in different languages to ensure that law enforcement understands the needs of people with disabilities and are therefore more inclusive.

With the rapidly increasing effects of COVID-19 on national and individual levels, it is expected that violence against women and girls shall rise dramatically and place those already vulnerable in a dangerous state. It is therefore absolutely crucial that frontline organisations, particularly disabled persons organisations, are supported as we look for ways to stand beside people with disabilities and their families in the days to come.


Betty Achana, Executive Secretary, National Union Of Women with Disabilities Of Uganda (NUWODU).

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