Why should we include people with disabilities and older adults in the COVID-19 response?

Fifteen percent of the global population has a disability – that’s one in seven people. People with disabilities include ‘people with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’. Of these:

There is therefore a significant overlap between older populations and populations with disabilities, which should be taken into account when designing and implementing inclusive COVID-19 responses. There are also distinct requirements for people with disabilities who are not older, and older adults who do not have disabilities, which must also be taken into account. Considerations for each of these overlapping groups are provided below.

Including people with disabilities and older adults is about recognising basic human rights

The UN recognises that the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation are essential to achieving all other human rights. This includes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has been signed by 163 countries, and stipulates that humanitarian responses must be disability inclusive (Article 11). Recently, the UN’s Secretary General urged governments “to place people with disabilities at the center of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts and to consult and engage people with disabilities”. Though international obligations to realising the human rights of older adults are implied through a number of treaties (including the CRPD, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights), any explicit references to older adults in required international human rights instruments are limited.

Applying the principles of human rights (equality and non-discrimination, participation, transparency, accountability and sustainability) within COVID-19 responses can reduce inequalities in access to WASH and health services, and participation in daily activities. Community-level hygiene and COVID-19 prevention programmes are also an opportunity for WASH actors to practice inclusive WASH, something the sector has been prioritising in recent years.

Want to know more about disability and ageing in COVID-19 hygiene promotion programmes?

Editor's notes:

Written by: Jane Wilbur

Initially Reviewed by: Hannah Kuper, Islay Mactaggart, Sian White, Chelsea Huggett

Secondary review by: Bethany Caruso, Diana Hiscock, Islay Mactaggart

Last updated: 08.09.2020


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