Impact of Covid-19 on India’s Differently Abled

Kakali Das

While the entire country has tumbled head over heels witnessing and discussing how Covid-19 has affected the normal people physically and emotionally, not much attention has been paid to the problems faced by the differently abled in India. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it has estimated that about 15% of the world’s population experiences some kind of disability and yet there isn’t enough talk about it. A study that has come up by Rising Flame and Sightsavers reported that at least 50% of the people that they surveyed had problems due to work and livelihood, access to technology, mobility, and even sustainability in times of such crisis. UN, in the meantime, has called for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities. The UN chief issued a policy highlighting the disproportionate impact Covid-19 is having on persons with disabilities. He has called for pandemic response and recovery to be more ‘disability inclusive’, starting with recognizing and protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities. 3rd December is considered as the International Day of Person’s with Disability and National Disability Day. Given that one had seen the hearing-impaired aided weekly news only on Doordarshan on Sundays back in the day, we should have by now progressed with at least one mainstream channel dedicating at least one hour a week on the topic, which would remain a pipe dream anyway.

As the families were cooped up in their homes for months, surveys have found that majority of the children didn’t wear their hearing aids at home. It was extremely important for the parents to have had immense communication with them during that period. The parents of the underprivileged are completely oblivious to how to deal with their children who are differently abled. Help from the schools were limited and insufficient since those special schools for the underprivileged don’t have any technological facility to aid the children amidst the pandemic. For the people surviving in such small areas, there was not much access to other gadgets, except for a few cell phones. As a result, the way the normal children have been receiving their education on the computers, the children with disabilities are deprived of these communications for the last 8-9 months. Underprivileged children aren’t aware of how to deal with such an unprecedented situation; and as most of them have moved to their native places, if the normal people have engaged themselves with some amount of activity, these disabled children have been away from all such pursuits as far as education, communication with people are concerned.

Most of the hearing impaired children who are working with a sign or gestural language weren’t able to communicate with the people. They had to rely on their parents to learn since others were unable to communicate with them. Regarding the hearing aids by the government, there are standardised hearing aids provided in these schools, so these listening devices don’t give enough input to the child and hence aren’t progressing.

“In the last 29 years of my service, all the children who I have screened for hearing have some residual hearing capabilities left in them and we have tried to help most of the children with the hearing aids who have visited our institute, but of course we haven’t been able to reach the masses and most people aren’t even aware that such machines do exist”, Devangi Dalal, Co-Founder, Josh Foundation said.

Poverty, misconception, and restricted thought process have engulfed their lives and they are grappling with it.  Since 1998, digital hearing aids and popular implants have been available in the market but people are still hesitant to spend money in these aids for these children. Hence, sign language is the support system for the children to interact. In almost 80 countries there are various protocols by the governments for the hearing impaired people; these countries have even started Neonatal Screening so that the hearing aids given to children is within 6 months of their birth. The children are equipped with hearing aids according to their requirements; the parents start conversing and the entire team works for them. They are able to communicate as efficiently as the normal children in less than two years. Hence, those 80 countries are able to reduce this handicap by 20-40%, which in our country it hasn’t even been paid attention to; there isn’t any Neonatal Screening available here.

The situation of Covid-19 has impacted the differently abled in terms of their mental health and it has compounded anxiety issues in them. “One of the major issues which we have noticed in the differently abled during this pandemic is the wearing of masks. To wear a mask and to communicate, especially for the hearing impaired and mentally challenged children is a major issue. On the one hand, they aren’t able to understand the communication, and on the other hand, they feel suffocated”, Ms Dalal further said.

“Recently, a child was sitting at home and it so happened that his hearing aid stopped working and they couldn’t repair it for almost two months. That boy, as a result, didn’t have any activity at home and got so frustrated that his mental health deteriorated to a point where violence took over the family eventually. The major issue is that they were inactive for months and that has created more frustration and anxiety for them.”

In the Urban areas as parents are a bit aware of how to deal with the Covid-19 situation, they have explained how chaotic the year has been for the world at large to their children. So there hasn’t been a major issue in the cities but in the rural areas the parents are heedless of such situations. The saturation level has reached a point where they are unmindful of what is ahead of them.

With the UN reporting that the Nations need to be more inclusive of the people with disabilities, as far as our country is concerned, 1.3 million populations is hearing impaired and only 10% of it is receiving proper treatment. Apart from that, the pandemic has deprived them of proper online education, employment facilities etc. Where employment for normal people has become a difficulty now, how would the people with disabilities be employed? Support for these children from the government is at rock bottom. It has become a herculean task for parents to handle such situations on their own.

“In the last one month we have provided hearing aids requirement to almost 30 children and guided them on how one should educate oneself at home and how these hearing aids would help the children in leading a normal life. So, the parents, professionals and the government have to work and go down to a base level of all the disabilities and make an awareness programme and guide them regarding how one can work for each and every disability”, Ms Dalal said.

Covid-19 has made us acknowledge the importance of physical and mental health the same way for the disabled children as well. How technology has advanced for normal people, it has for the differently abled too. The government should make the concerned team available who are aware of the nuances of today’s technologies and the ways to deal with it, to form certain assignments and protocols for each and every disability. There are more than 450 special schools in India for the hearing impaired children. If in all the schools the correct diagnosis is done for all the children, and the hearing aids are provided to them based on their requirements, these disabilities would no longer be a hindrance in the progress of these children. The parents and teachers must be counselled on how to deal with these children; initiatives must be taken by the government to integrate normal education system, including higher education for the differently abled, followed by employment. If protocols are designed for each and every disability by the government with the help of professionals and parents, it will become a smooth process. Building awareness is what is required to be more inclusive, and it’s time we became more inclusive.




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