The pandemic has heightened inequality and increased the marginalisation of vulnerable communities. One of such vulnerable segments is people living with disabilities who already faced harsh difficulties in Nigeria before COVID-19. Now, largely unnoticed in the general media, disabled individuals face increased healthcare, social, and economic risks; thus, it is essential to shed light on the importance of an inclusive response to limit the impact of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s disabled community.
Disabled individuals under institutional care will have a hard time maintaining social distancing measures if these facilities are already overcrowded. Further, several health complications might increase the chances of infection or fatalities for some people living with disabilities. Disabled persons might also face challenges in accessing health facilities for minor or routine procedures as fears of hospital infections increase for caretakers and patients.
According to the National Population Commission, there are about 19 million Nigerians living with disabilities; however, a bill which protects disabled individuals from discrimination was only signed into law last year. This means that before the bill, there was no updated policy to prevent businesses and individuals from discriminating against disabled persons for important issues like employment or equality in treatment.
Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, says the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Bill also stipulates a 5-year transitional period to modify public structures to be accessible to people living with disabilities – an important amendment since about 98% of facilities in Nigeria are not modified to accommodate disabled persons. Further, students with disabilities might be excluded from distance learning methods without necessary support or proper training on using digital tools for learning, and low income disabled students might not have access to the internet and other digital tools.
Disabled persons account for a third of Nigerians living in extreme poverty, making them prone to harsh economic risks due to the pandemic. Before COVID-19, disabled persons faced difficulties securing employment, and a 2015 study on the employment rate of disabled persons in Anambra State found that 82% of respondents were unemployed. As companies move to remote working to respond to COVID-19, disabled persons might also find it difficult to easily adapt to remote working, especially if they are used to in-person business activities without training on using digital tools with disabilities.
Ensuring inclusive responses
To ensure that responses are inclusive, COVID-19 task forces at the federal and state levels should include disabled persons and organisations serving disabled communities to guarantee that data is disaggregated to understand how the pandemic affects the disabled, to enforce inclusive policies and regulations.
Further, information and updates on COVID-19 management should be made accessible to disabled persons who might not have access to traditional sources of information from public and private actors. Social and health workers who care for disabled persons and the elderly should also be given more support to reach their patients during the pandemic.
Finally, employers, teachers, and schools will need support in providing accessible digital tools for distance learning and remote working opportunities for persons living with disabilities.