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‘Are We Forgotten?’ People with Disabilities Wait for Vaccines

In India, despite being the most vulnerable group, people with disabilities are unprotected and unable to go out.

Published
Coronavirus
4 min read
“How should I sanitize my wheelchair? Would people help me if I need assistance in the pandemic era or would they stay clear, treating me as a possible source of infection?”
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Last year, the month of April introduced me to a new nightmare.

There was a lockdown outside. Hospitals were running out of beds. There were articles being written on how persons with disabilities, many of whom had comorbidities, were one of the most vulnerable groups in the pandemic era.

Along with age, disability and illness were identified as factors that could disproportionately affect the body when infected by the Coronavirus, with morbid consequences.

Do anything to prevent yourself from Covid, they said.

And we did.

We hid at home. Surrounded by the paranoia of touching things and being touched.

How should I sanitize my wheelchair? Would people help me if I need assistance in the pandemic era or would they stay clear, treating me as a possible source of infection? Questions raised by the disabled community were often left unanswered.
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Living with disability and chronic illness, the pandemic brought new challenges in my life.

The idea of independence was challenged as I was alone, and struggled to even get groceries. But I somehow managed.

I cooked, I cleaned, I cried.

I tried to survive. And it took a toll on me.

My mental health, my social wellbeing, my dreams and ambition. On every facet of my life. And I was not alone. Many of us suffered the same fate. Some others were worse off. Out on the roads. Travelling for days in search of survival.

'The world would get back to its feet once we have the vaccines', we were told. We sat and cheered the scientists, and became happy with every breakthrough.

One year down the line, we are still stuck at home. For persons with disabilities and chronic illness, the side effects of fear are taking a toll.

Fear of catching covid. Fear of other diseases. Fear of hospitals running out of beds. Fear of lockdowns being imposed again.

There are vaccines out there. My grandparents are eligible to get them. So are my parents.

But not young persons with disabilities and illnesses. Nope. Wait, weren’t we one of the sections of society most vulnerable to the effects of covid?

Maybe we live in a different world where disabled persons are immune to everything, including indifference.

In Britain, persons with disabilities and illnesses are being prioritized for vaccination. People with learning disabilities are included too. High body mass index (BMI) also makes you a high priority for the vaccination program.

In America, vaccination is open to persons with disabilities and any form of illness, and their prioritization is recommended by the Centre for disease control (CDC).

So why is India, which has one of the leading vaccination programs against Covid leaving out persons with disabilities?

Not that the government wasn't informed about the necessity to vaccinate persons with disabilities on a priority. Appeals were made by disability rights organizations for the same.

‘Are We Forgotten?’ People with Disabilities Wait for Vaccines
(Photo: iStockphoto)
Letters were written appealing the government for not only making persons with disability a priority but also to make the vaccination process accessible for them.

But all these appeals and letters remain unanswered. We would have to wait; we were told through silence.

A year later, come April, we are in the midst of a second wave of Covid, stronger than the first. The rate of infection is the highest it has been throughout the pandemic.

And persons with disabilities are still unprotected. Still unable to go out. And it's not only them who have to live in fear, but their parents, relatives, house helps, friends. It's a fear that everyone has to partake in.

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Studies suggest that persons with intellectual disabilities are at a very high risk of getting infected because they might be able to comply with precautionary measures like masking and social distancing.

They, along with their caregivers are one of the most vulnerable groups and should have been vaccinated with some urgency.

Children with learning disabilities are also having a tough time during the pandemic, which has put their life in disorder. Parents of children with disabilities are struggling to cope with the pandemic era.

They are expected to do care work along with the pressures of work from home, which has certainly taken a toll on them.

Things don't make much sense anymore. Are young disabled people not considered valuable to society? Don't they have to go out, work, have a social life, lead an independent life.

In day-to-day life, most disabled people have to face many odds.

Inaccessibility, apathy and discrimination are always part of their experiences. Shouldn’t the government have made our lives a little easier by prioritizing our vaccination?

The way we have been left out is a clear indication of how the government perceives us. We are expected to stay home, dependent on others, mainly our family and friends for our everyday needs, with no sense of individuality or community.

Perhaps we are only useful when we do anything that feeds into the inspirational fodder that is expected from us.

We are not treated as individual human beings, as fully formed individuals but just an abstract idea to inspire people. Or to be used as examples for Karmic equivalence. Divyangs, in the true sense of the word.

Abhishek Anicca is a writer, poet and researcher. He identifies as a person with disability and chronic illness.

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