News on coronavirus response

18 March 2020

Update: for subsequent news see online for all updates or the March 26 overview and update.

Dear all,

I'd meant to welcome you in a different way to this newsletter on international disability exchange but unfortunately the world has changed. I hope you are all taking care and wish all the best for you and your loved ones.

This edition is a round-up of international news so far on inclusion of persons with disabilities in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As well as precautions in our lives we need to be careful about information. I'm sharing a lot of links here as a reference of what's out there. Double-check the source, the date, and the specific-information if you're acting on any of them.

The regular update with general disability news will be at the end of the month. Further updates on coronavirus will continue too.

Please stay in touch with news to include on twitter @desibility.


This newsletter gathers together links on what's going on internationally with disability and coronavirus.

The situation of persons with disabilities gathers information on the specific needs or vulnerabilities of persons with disabilities, and many articles raising concerns they have been neglected, or our lives given less value.

The section on response details what the response should be as well as what it can be.

  • Advice the disability community is giving to governments and others
  • Accessible communication materials and information
  • Services and support for persons with disabilities
  • Resources on mental health, in interventions and for ourselves.

We're living in a new world. I'm very happy to be able to share with you some of the achievements of disability organisations in China. And there are important disability and accessibility-related issues in each of the new ways we are doing things in lockdown.

Going forward I really hope we can use and build on our existing networks as well as finding new ways to connect with and support each other.

Situation of persons with disabilities

Overview on Five things to know about Coronavirus and persons with Disabilities (Forbes). Useful conceptual points.

For a deeper discussion on recommendations of health protection of persons with disabilities during outbreaks, see this valuable report from ONG Inclusiva, which details the lessons that have already been learned. (Also available in Spanish).

Here are some useful personal reflections from Facundo Chávez (in Spanish).

In Australia, a survey already shows that disabled people have had support cancelled or haven't been able to access medication or supplies (Guardian, 17 March).

In Kenya, a blog reflecting on disabled people being left out of Coronavirus conversations and links to the HIV/AIDs response.

In Italy, an article describing too much confusion and too little protection for persons with disabilities (14 March, in Italian).

In Spain, concerns are raised about the situation of persons with intellectual disabilities by Plena Inclusión (13 March, in Spanish).

In the UK, a blog reflecting on Coronavirus and the Mental Capacity Act.

The “vulnerable class”

Descriptions of coronavirus have shown much implicit or explicit devaluing of lives of older people lives of older people or those with health conditions, and the articles below discuss this.

At the same time as challenging those views we need to think about how we describe those “vulnerable” or “at-risk” as these are not always the best labels. See, for example, this blog-post from the UK on how to frame protecting themselves as a positive role older people can play for the society as a whole.

From Canada:

From the UK:

From the USA:


Advice to governments

The Special Rapporteur, who supports countries and international organizations on rights of persons with disabilities, asks who is protecting the rights of persons with disabilities:

Little has been done to provide people with disabilities with the guidance and support needed to protect them during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even though many of them are part of the high-risk group, today warned the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas.

"People with disabilities feel they have been left behind," the UN human rights expert said. "Containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bathe."

"This support is basic for their survival, and States must take additional social protection measures to guarantee the continuity of support in a safe manner throughout the crisis." (17 March)

In Australia:

In the European Union, European Disability Forum asks for disability inclusive response (13 March). The elements of their call are:

  • Making public health communication accessible
  • Accessible, inclusive, hygienic health services and other facilities
  • Invest in provision of services and support
  • Involving persons with disabilities
  • Ensuring marginalised and isolated people are not left without essential goods, support and human contact
  • Support networks and assistive devices
  • Income protection
  • Ensuring that public health communication messages are respectful and non-discriminatory
  • Ensuring persons with disabilities are counted
  • Ensuring non-nationals are protected

See a summary of how disability organisations are responding across Europe, also from EDF.

In the UK:

In the USA:


Accessible information

There is easy to read information in different languages collected by Inclusion Europe.

In the USA:

Community engagement. This humanitarian guide on how to include marginalized and vulnerable people in risk communication and community engagement in coronavirus response includes a brief section on persons with disabilities. From UNOCHA and others.

Information for persons with disabilities

Information in sign-languages

Facts about Covid-19 in international sign-language from Mill Neck International (3 March).

In Australia, the prime minister's announcement did not have Australian sign-language (15th March).

In the European Union:

In Ireland, public health agency information in British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language.

In Germany, criticism of the fight against coronavirus excluding the deaf (DW, 16 March)

In Mexico, a court orders the government to provide accessible information in sign-language (17 March, in Spanish)

In Spain, the government has been including sign-language in key broadcasts, applauds State Confederation for Deaf People (18 March, in Spanish)

Provision of services and support

Persons with disabilities need ways to maintain assistance, services and care.

In Peru the government will form a network of support for older adults and persons with severe disabilities. Urgent Decree 026-2020 (In Spanish)

In the UK:

Mental health

Interventions on mental health

The WHO has shared considerations on Mental Health and Psychosocial conditions during the :-19 outbreak. Includes considerations on the general population, health care workers and persons with disabilities and health conditions.

A briefing note on addressing mental health and psychosocial aspects of COVID-19 Outbreak from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). Includes a list of globally recommended actions.

Mental Health and Disability. From the USA, see a webinar on Covid-19, Disability and Mental Health from Respect Ability (recording and transcript available).

Our own mental health

A new world

Build back better: new connections

I am thrilled to be able to share with you an update from China and the work of disability organisations there. Haibin Zhou, from Easy Inclusion, who shared the news of their work with me, reminds us of the proverb that when "a door closes, another opens".

Easy Inclusion is part of a coalition of disability organisations and NGOs to support persons with disabilities, many of whom are facing economic challenges or can't keep up their work in the crisis and lockdown.

They have developed 15 courses so far around personal and career development, and have been reaching over 10,000 persons with disabilities with some of them. Live broadcasts by blind massage therapists (unable to pursue their normal work) have reached audiences of over 150,000 people. Over 2,000 work-from-home opportunities have been found and 289 of them have been filled over the passed two months.

As well as these courses they are doing webinars, and finding ways for persons with disabilities to connect with each other and work through mental health issues.

Haibin is looking for people that can support with advice on developing online peer-counselling, job-coaching, and vocational training. You can email him directly on

I really take heart from this work. At the best of time persons with disabilities are often isolated from society. This can happen even more in when the normal forms of social connection are disturbed, as is currently happening around the world. These initiatives show that it's possible to make new connections in this time, and find ways of reaching people that maybe didn't exist before.

Changing how we study, work and shop

Keep it accessible. Important reminders to keep in mind accessibility issues when moving courses or work online. See this reminder of web accessibility standards.

What does it mean in the workplace?

Social-distancing and other measures can particularly affect persons with disabilities.

Many supermarkets are offering specific hours for older persons and persons with disabilities.

Does this mean things could have always been accessible? Many people have said that “reasonable accommodations the coronavirus is forcing us to adopt is what the disability community has been denied for decades.” (Liz Plank, among others)

Going forward

Emerging areas

There are some areas where I didn't see information and think we will need a lot more.

Humanitarian Settings I have not come across any assessment of the possible impact or what can be done in terms of persons with disabilities in humanitarian settings. This is of great concern.

Social Protection. Governments are already taking initial measures but this will need to be a big focus going forward to support for the human and economic costs of this pandemic. This thread on twitter, not to do with disability, has useful reflections and resources on shock responsive social protection systems borrowing from UNICEF guidance.

Connecting with each other

Coronavirus and Older People: online community of academics and practitioners sharing information and practices.

See a sample of online conversations between disabled people and others about coronavirus.

KineticLight (on facebook), led by dancers with disabilities, are sharing online videos of dancing and movement on #CreateConnectKL.

In the UK, there is a list of mutual aid resources for disabled people (via @Fran_Face).

Initiatives and new discussions

Searching for emerging market ventilation systems: the Global Disability Innovation Hub, with partners, are doing a call for rapidly manufactured ventilation systems that can be built in the UK. Expression of interest to participate in the collaborative working group (19 to 20 March). Apply to participate in the call (closing 24 March).

Disability Inclusion in Covid-19 Responses in the World of Work, a webinar hosted by ILO's Global Business and Disability Network. For all interested stakeholders. Connect on zoom. Tuesday 24th March, 2pm CET.

Stay in touch

Thank you all for reading and thanks to those of you that have been sharing links and resources with me already. Please continue so that I can feature them in upcoming bulletins.

To end on a personal note. I'm a person with health conditions that would make me vulnerable to the virus. I've started what could easily be months of lockdown and physical distancing. I'm on the mental health rollercoaster that many of us are on. I'm painfully aware of the distance from loved ones and of the bad-case scenarios that can unfold around the world. Preparing this newsletter gave me purpose on a day I needed it.

I hope that together we can be in community with each other and work to address the challenges that come out of this situation.

Please take care of yourself and those around you. More soon, and until then fingers-crossed and fingers-washed.


For those of you who don't know me, I'm a freelance consultant working internationally on disability. This newsletter is my voluntary contribution.