Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation academic staff member Assist. Prof. Dr. Ünal Değer wrote an article titled “COVID-19 and Persons with Disabilities” due to May 10-16 World Disability Week. In the said article, Assist. Prof. Dr. Değer made the following statements:
The global COVID-19 pandemic poses a high risk for people with disabilities. 10-16 May, World Disability Week, adopted by the United Nations (UN), is an important week to raise awareness for disabled individuals. The challenges of being a disabled person under pandemic conditions due to COVID-19 have been discussed this year within the scope of the World Disability Week, which is observed with sports and art-related activities every year.
Similar to many countries in the world, our country has developed policies in various areas to reduce the impact of the pandemic. In this process, it is extremely important to protect the health of disabled individuals, who are the mirror of a society, whilst protecting public health. Article 11 of the "International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities" published by the UN states that governments must fulfill all obligations in accordance with human rights treaty to protect the disabled and ensure their safety in special risk situations. "
“Disabled Persons are in the High Risk Group"
"The UN stated in the report published in 2020 that disabled individuals are in the high risk group. People with disabilities may have problems in performing hygiene conditions such as hand washing outside the home. The risk of transmission increases due to the lack of easily accessible hygiene spots in many public areas and private institutions. It is also very important to maintain social distance in order to be protected from the new type of coronavirus. However, it is much more difficult for most disabled individuals to maintain social distance and to provide contact free communication compared to other members of the society. Especially visually-impaired individuals feel the need to touch objects to discover about the environment or to get physical support. In addition, individuals living in nursing homes or who are completely dependent have difficulty in adhering to the social distance rule.
“The current health status of disabled individuals is one of the most important reasons that increase this risk. Low activity level, which mostly occurs due to physical limitations, negatively affects heart and lung health. Similarly, use of medicines or chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity that develop due to some factors make it difficult to fight the virus and even leads to death. "
“Precautions Must Be Taken"
“It is essential to take measures to reduce the risk faced by disabled people. In order to cope with the pandemic crisis, it is essential to have volunteers from all walks of life, not just government officials and healthcare professionals. It may also be useful to collaborate with associations and organizations representing disabled people. It is important to regularly conduct tests that provide virus detection to disabled individuals and their primary caregivers. Similarly, priority should be given to this group in vaccination. However, these services must be accessible and affordable (low test fees).
Testing and vaccination should be provided in areas that are easy to reach, where there are no architectural obstacles, uneven roads or stairs, or, if possible, in a home environment. It may also be beneficial to deliver personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves and hand disinfectants to the homes and workplaces of people with disabilities regularly and at low cost / free of charge. Access to information sources and communication channels for epidemic risk reduction and precautions should be facilitated. Subtitles and sign language support should be added to live broadcast or recorded programs and social media broadcasts. In order for visually / hearing impaired individuals to easily access written information, creating informative articles prepared in Braille alphabet may also be an option.
Telehealth service for people with disabilities should be developed and information should be provided about COVID-19. In addition, special lines (phone and e-mail) should be established where they can communicate with government officials, municipalities, etc. and receive assistance when necessary. Especially disabled individuals working in crowded and busy areas should be given the option to work from home or their working hours should be flexible. The guide prepared by the World Health Organization against the COVID-19 outbreak for workplaces should definitely be taken into consideration. It is important to provide technological support to adopt and enable work policies with less contact. "
“Rehabilitation Processes Should Continue"
“It is very important for the disabled individuals to meet their physical, psychological and mental rehabilitation needs during the pandemic. However, while applying rehabilitation approaches, the risk of virus transmission should be eliminated. For this reason, training should be given to healthcare centers and they should be supervised. Priority should be given to the delivery of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves and hand disinfectants to the centers and free supply should be provided if possible. Places such as stores, markets and pharmacies can make shopping safer by arranging special entrance hours for people with disabilities or provide contact free shopping (delivery to address, etc.).
As a result, disabled individuals should also be taken into account when developing prevention and treatment policies today, where more than 160 million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19. I hope that 10-16 May World Disability Week will be instrumental in increasing social awareness about disabled individuals and taking the right steps towards make their lives easier in extraordinary situations such as pandemics. "