Are We Ensuring Disability Rights In The Response To Covid-19?

Disability Rights In The Response To Covid-19

Disability Rights In The Response To Covid-19: The pacific and Asia is home to an estimated 690 million persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities face barriers to effective and full participation in our society, with many having intersecting disadvantages when disabilities interact with other characteristics, including gender, age, ethnicity, income and place of residence. Many persons with disabilities are poor and in vulnerable employment without adequate social protection. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) research indicates that the difference in poverty rates between persons with disabilities and the general population can be as high as 20.6 per cent.[1] These disadvantaged circumstances make persons with disabilities more vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain containment measures, including social distancing and self-isolation, may be difficult: persons with physical disabilities may need assistance from attendants to fulfil physiological requirements while persons with intellectual disabilities may require guardians to support their daily needs.

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, governments have the responsibility to mainstream disability inclusion into pandemic responses to ensure that the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities are safeguarded.[2] Given below are few recommendations that the countries must try adhering to:

1. Ensure that all pandemic responses are disability-inclusive, including through consultation and partnerships with persons with disabilities All policy responses to COVID-19 should be disability-inclusive, ranging from public health and containment measures to economic stimulus packages and socioeconomic impact assessments.

2. Provide continued access to all goods and services, including disability-specific support services, necessary for safeguarding the wellbeing of persons with disabilities In situations of broken supply chains, widespread shortages of essential items and locked down cities, persons with disabilities may not have the resources to obtain daily necessities such as food, toiletries and medicines as well as hand sanitizers, hygiene kits and protective masks.

3. Deliver public information in accessible formats – with public communication messaging that is bias-free and respectful of all population groups, including persons with disabilities To empower persons with disabilities, especially those with existing health conditions, to protect themselves against COVID-19, it is critical that governments disseminate public information in accessible formats.

4. Make medical and quarantine policies and processes accessible and disability inclusive There is a need to make sure that designated health facilities, including testing and quarantine centres, are accessible, to allow persons with disabilities to seek medical assistance when required. Medical providers need to stand ready to offer sign language interpretation, including exploring the use of relay services and/or remote signing via smart phone applications and video technologies.

5. Safeguard the income security and livelihoods of persons with disabilities To enable persons with disabilities, especially those with existing health conditions, to continue working while reducing social contact to reduce infection risks, governments should encourage employers to put in place reasonable accommodation measures, such as enhanced flexible working arrangements and paid leave. Governments should consider legislating stricter anti-discrimination and labour laws, and strengthen enforcement of such laws to safeguard against unfair or discriminatory dismissal of persons with disabilities during the period.

In India, On May 6, the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet decided to suspend 35 of the 38 labour laws in the state for three years.[3] It said that this would attract much-needed investment to an economy battered by Covid-19. Three laws have been exempted from the ordinance: the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976. Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, which relates to timely payment of wages, will also continue to be in force.[4]

Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary, R.K. Tiwari has mentioned that the ordinance will be sent to the Central government for its approval. This means the state is trying to fulfill the mandate under Article 213 of the Constitution.[5] But experts state that even if the constitutional procedure is followed, it would be embarrassing for the Centre to give its approval given the measures it has adopted to codify and simplify labour laws.

Article 213 (1) of the Constitution of India has the following provisions:

  1. “(a) Bill containing the same provisions would under this Constitution have required the previous sanction of the President for the introduction thereof into the Legislature; or 
  2. (b) he would have deemed it necessary to reserve a Bill containing the same provisions for the consideration of the President; or
  3. (c) an Act of the Legislature of the State containing the same provisions would under this Constitution have been invalid unless, having been reserved for the consideration of the President, it had received the assent of the President.”[6]

An ordinance is passed when the state government considers the matter so urgent that it cannot wait for the state Assembly to meet in normal course. An ordinance has the same effect as a law passed in the legislature. The fact that the Uttar Pradesh government has now sent the ordinance to the Centre for approval suggests that it anticipates a claim of repugnancy as it is probably choosing to suspend entire laws and not just those sections delegated to it. The text of the ordinance was not available in the public domain till 7 pm on Friday.

Following in the footsteps of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat on Friday announced that it was exempting projects from all but three labour laws in the state in an attempt to attract investment after the lockdown.[7] Except for laws pertaining to the payment of minimum wages, following safety norms and adequate compensation for workers in case of industrial accidents, no other provisions of the labour law would apply to all new companies that wish to operate in the state for at least 1,200 days, and for those that have already been operational for that period.[8] These steps taken by the state governments in India are not adhering to the norms that the world organizations to which India is a signatory have passed and if not stopped will have an adverse effect on the lives of the Persons with Disabilities.

Swadhin Khatua | Member | Centre for Rights of Differently Abled




[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Article 213(1)- Constitution of India.


[8] Id.

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