Webinar COVID-19 pandemic: disability issues in the EU



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On April 10th the European Disability Forum (EDF) organised a two hours webinar about the COVID-19 pandemic and what challenges are persons with disabilities are facing. The speakers shared how persons with disabilities are experiencing the measures adopted by the different countries when these don’t take into consideration a disability perspective.

This webinar was conducted by André Félix, EDF External Communications Coordinator and was supported by Raquel Riaza, Events and Administration Officer and by other colleagues from EDF‘s office. The webinar was accessible for persons with disabilities providing live captioning and international sign language interpretation. It was recorded and it will be available on EDF’s website.

EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis, gave an opening speech in which he touched upon the situation in Greece and how this pandemic will be a turning point in the discussion about CRPD and the SDGs.

Catherine Naughton and André Felix spoke about the main areas of EDF’s work on the pandemic and the main issues that have been in common across Europe.

Likewise, EDF members from the most affected countries in Europe, Italy and Spain, explained about the situation in their countries.

First, Pilar Villarino and Jesús Martín, from CERMI (Spanish National Council of Persons with Disabilities) took the floor. Ms Villarino gave an overview on the situation and stressed the role of the disability movement as agent of change. Then, Mr Martín spoke about the main cases of discrimination that persons with disabilities face during this crisis in Spain.

Luisa Bosisio and Giampiero Griffo, both EDF board members, presented the situation of Italy. Ms Bosisio briefly described the state of the crisis in Italy, and afterwards Mr Griffo complemented the presentation with the objectives that the disability movement tried to obtain.

Moreover, Ana Peláez, EDF Vice-president, added on the situation in Spain providing more data and she also underlined the issue of the discrimination in triage.

Finally there was time for other EDF members attending the webinar to take the floor, followed by questions and answers.



Questions and answers

Question 1 

Is there any relay service available for people with aphasia in Europe ? French law mentions it but does not provide it.  FNAF has created document accessible for people with aphasia, about coronavirus and about governement rules. How could we share at European level?

Answer 1

We are not aware of a specific service. Services such as text relay (where a person can text and an intermediary reads the content to the receiver or vice-versa) and real time text services (where the receiver can see in real time what the sender is texting, without needing to finish a message or press a send button) are national competencies and do not have an equivalent European service.

We gave no such information specifically for COVID helplines. 

Question 2

I am interested how EDF is doing regarding COVID-19 advocacy with the accessibility of information with subtitles (speech-to-text). How member countries have been able to get announcements of COVID-19 with subtitles on their television programs?

Answer 2

Accessibility of public health information, including live captioning, is one of the requests in our list of demands. That said, accessible health information is the responsibility of national countries. We do know that many accessibility measures were just taken after strong complaints by national organisations, including formal letters to authorities and mass media. Rhe European Union of the Deaf provides an excellent overview of advocacy to ensure sign language and subtitles per country. 

Question 3

What types of precaution should be adopted while caring of peoples with disabilities to prevent from COVID 19 infection?

Answer 3

Unfortunately the main precaution is, at the moment, difficult to take: use of personal protective equipment. Hygiene measures should also be taken: both personal hygiene and disinfection of surfaces and everything that persons with disabilities can come in contact with. We strongly suggest that persons with disabilities should have priority access to services and goods, to limit their exposure. It is also important to ensure persons with disabilities are not isolated or lack means of communication.

Complemented by CERMI (Spanish National Council): CERMI has drafted a compendium of recommendations on how to deal with managing the crisis and persons with disabilities. We translated it to English and it is available on the EDF web site at =. CERMI is giving permission for the document to be translated to any language, and we know our Italian colleagues are working on a translation.

Question 4

What can we do if the government is not taking care of people with disabilities. How can we advocate since everything is remote and there is no place for protests outside?

Answer 4

CERMI Recommendations:

National councils can do the following if their government is not acting to support or assist persons with disabilities:

  1. try to get the main press and media outlets in the country to report on the situation.
  2. campaign on social media and encourage all stakeholders to share the information on their accounts across the different media.
  3. report the situation to the ombudsperson in their country.
  4. ask other active human rights organisations in the country to help, such as for example the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Save the Children.
  5. get in touch with EDF, submit information on the situation and ask EDF for assistance in relation to their government.
  6. contact Catalina Devandas, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, to ask for support in relation to their government. You can also contact the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and outline the situation. The email address of the secretariat is crpd@ohchr.org.

Addendum by the European Disability Forum:

Unfortunately, in this case, a lot of advocacy has passed to virtual means, especially through the internet and social media. This puts persons with lack of digital access, or digital education, at a disadvantage.

We strongly advise you to contact national disability organisations and human rights institutions.

Online petitions in platforms such as avaaz and change.org can be useful, especially to reach the media (many journalists are also stuck at home). Communication with national governments is done digitally and we see an increased openness to more informal forms of communications (through social media like twitter and Facebook for example). Social media has also gained importance in terms of pressuring governments.

We also see an increased attention to reports by journalists and of somewhat increased interest of journalists in some countries to our issues – if you see articles about the situation of other discriminated groups (older people, racialized people, etc), we suggest that you contact the journalist to provide additional information about persons with disabilities.


Question specifically for CERMI

How many complaints about medical or educational exclusion (due to triage, people shouting angrily to persons with disabilities when out, lack of accessibility of virtual platorms have you received? Could you give advice on how to raise awareness of complaining in a way that I effective during the lockdown?

Answer from CERMI

At the moment we do not have concrete data on these complaints, we hope to be able to specify it in a report that is being prepared by CERMI on the impact of the pandemic on the human rights of people with disabilities.

To raise awareness we are working with the Police, with the media, as well and campaigning on our social networks.

Addendum from EDF: As said before, you should contact national disability organisations and human rights institutions.