Disabled community appeals for inclusion in COVID-19 messaging

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By Carl Joseph

The disabled community is claiming that the messaging being disseminated to most of the general population regarding the coronavirus has not yet made its way to them.

President of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Persons Living with Disabilities (ABAPD), Bernard Warner, has penned a letter to the minister with the responsibility for those in that community, Samantha Marshall, appealing for the government to include them.

The obstacles to accessibility that present a frustrating struggle at the best of times, now pose a more formidable threat during an outbreak that has triggered unprecedented closures and protective measures across the country.

While such barriers persist throughout the island, Warner said that the failure by government agencies are particularly glaring as the outbreak unfolds.

“We have not heard either from the Minister of Health or the [Minister of Social Transformation] any public information in relation to this vulnerable population,” Warner said.

“None of the public announcements in the media – namely ABS – has included a sign language interpreter to properly and adequately inform persons who are deaf and hearing- impaired,” he added.

In the president’s letter, he lists this as one of the key areas for immediate redress in light of the global pandemic. Other areas include: the suspension of utility payments for 90 days; early approval of PDV Caribe subsidy for early shopping; and advanced Board of Guardians payouts.

The concerns, the president indicated, are indicative of the poor socio-economic state in which many of the over 200 members of the Association live.

Warner said, “Many of them don’t have any water, and they already have been shut in due to their compromised immune systems.”

The World Bank estimates state that one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, with disability prevalence higher for developing countries. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.

Warner used those estimates to conclude that in Antigua and Barbuda, there are roughly 15,000 people living with a disability, and 3,000 to 5,000 experience severe challenges.

 “I don’t think that the government has truly recognised the need to have conversations with the disabled or vulnerable community, or they would have already called us in… they would have already had a press conference to equip us with the tools and information to help our members,” Warner argued.

Another one of the president’s concerns is that of the susceptibility of immobile members of the community who depend almost exclusively on care provided.

“If you’re caring for a disabled person, you have to go to your regular job at some point. And, you may come across someone that may have the virus, and they bring it home, so all of us are overly-exposed,” Warner said.

He then made the argument for a re-equipping of persons providing care to the disabled to provide them with the necessary tools and protective gear to combat the COVID-19 spread.

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