Committee members and fellow witnesses, last week was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. While persons with disabilities are estimated to represent 15% of the world's population, in countries where conflicts and humanitarian crisis are present, these figures may be much higher.
While people with disabilities are already too often excluded from the rest of society, the long-term effects of COVID-19 threaten to further exacerbate this exclusion. There is no excuse to leave people with disabilities behind.
On behalf of Humanity & Inclusion Canada, I will elaborate on findings collected by programs in 19 countries of intervention on how the COVID-19 crisis triggers disproportionate risks and barriers for men, women, boys and girls with disabilities living in humanitarian settings. In conflict- and disaster-affected or fragile countries, the pandemic can increase the risk of discrimination against persons with disabilities, creating the added challenge to access information and assistance which can lead to higher risks of contracting COVID-19 for certain groups.
Humanity & Inclusion has several concerns. People with disabilities too often do not have access to health services. These vulnerable groups, in many countries, already face significant barriers in accessing health care and other services, due to general stigma and discrimination, lack of accessibility, limited health care services and limited awareness. These barriers may become even more prominent during a health crisis like the current pandemic.
Persons with disabilities may have greater difficulties in accessing prevention messages due to inaccessible communication. For example, in the Philippines, half of the youth with disabilities surveyed, between the ages of 18 and 39 in Manila and Jakarta, needed more accessible information about COVID-19 and community quarantine. They also needed much more health support, such as medicine, access to hospital care, and medical consultation.
People with disabilities face heightened protection risks, such as abuse and violence. Evidence shows that the risk of violence to children and adults with disabilities is routinely three to four times higher than for those without disabilities. Women with disabilities are 10 times more likely than women without disabilities to experience sexual violence.
In the current circumstances of COVID-19, public restrictions, self-isolation of households and disruption of community life and social support may lead to increased protection risks for persons with disabilities and their caregivers. Those include separation from families and caregivers, domestic violence, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.
Persons with disabilities and their relatives are also less likely to disclose and report violence because of shame and fear, because family members and community members are often the perpetrators, or because the subject is still perceived as a taboo.
People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the economic shock caused by COVID-19. Specifically, vulnerable and marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities, persons with chronic illness and older persons, who were already vulnerable due to socio-economic exclusion, are even more likely to get hit harder by the reverberating effects of the pandemic.
According to UN estimates, half a billion people, or 8% of the world's population, could be pushed into poverty by the end of the year, largely due to the pandemic. The fight against poverty could see a setback of as much as 30 years.
Humanity & Inclusion calls on Canada to consider endorsing the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. Canada committed that its humanitarian funding will be inclusive of people with disabilities. We call on Canada to ensure that the $400 million devoted to combat COVID-19, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last September, directly targets the most vulnerable and marginalized people around the world, especially in crisis- and conflict-affected areas.
We recommend that Canada ensure that its funding of COVID-19 awareness campaigns promotes inclusive information on prevention and response through diverse accessible formats and technologies, specifically to reach people with visual, hearing and intellectual disabilities, such as sign language, easy read, plain language, audio, captioned media and Braille, so as to leave no one behind.
In addition, we recommend that public communication also use inclusive messages and images to share information with persons with disabilities on how to stay safe and healthy, and how to access assistance or submit concerns.