UNESCO launches tools to promote disability-inclusive responses to COVID-19

As the global community continues to rollout vaccination campaigns, UNESCO launched a policy document and a toolkit on disability inclusion. The aim is to build the capacity of governments to develop disability-inclusive responses to COVID-19 and beyond, highlight disability inclusion as a priority policy response in the context of COVID-19, and advocate for disability rights at all levels.

The online discussion “Cities leaving no one behind: COVID-19 responses for persons with disabilities from policy to practice” was held on 27 July 2021, opened by Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO. It emphasized the importance of data, the transversality of policy interventions, the whole-of-community approach and the inclusion of the most vulnerable in the processes of policymaking and service delivery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to expose a plethora of vulnerabilities and fragilities in our communities and is creating an ever-widening divide between groups. Vulnerable populations, including those who are physically, intellectually, or cognitively disabled, are most at risk of being left behind in this divide.

The launch of the two tools was complemented by a rich discussion with a diverse panel of speakers including policymakers, experts and artists. Contributing to the discussion were Ambassador Daintowon Domah Pay-Bayer, Chairperson, National Commission on Disabilities, Liberia; Mayor I Gusti Ngurah Jaya Negara, City of Denpasar, Indonesia; Jacques Galvani, Deputy Mayor in charge of universal access and persons with disabilities, City of Paris, France; Petra Björne, Research and Development Coordinator, Department of Disability Support, City of Malmö, Sweden; Varsha Gathoo, Head, Department of Education, Ali Yavar Jung National Institute of Speech and Hearing Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, India; Magali Saby, Professional dancer, founder of the inclusive dance academy “Be Together”. Moderated by Linda Tinio-Le Douarin (UNESCO Headquarters), the online discussion welcomed Juan Pablo Ramirez-Miranda (UNESCO New Delhi) contributing as the final discussant.

A number of inclusive policies and innovative practices were shared by the policymakers, ranging from national legislation provisions and local ordinances advancing  strong frameworks for disability rights, to creative mechanisms of cooperation with the private sector for the employment and insertion of persons with disabilities, to development of research tools to produce data on disability inclusion. These examples echoed the importance of the frameworks proposed by the two documents launched.

With a collection of good practices across regions, the policy document highlights that guidelines for developing accessible e-content material for learners and persons with disabilities needs to be incorporated into policy plans on a wide variety of sectors such as health, nutrition, education, employment and well-being. The toolkit showcases the pre-conditions necessary for ensuring disability inclusion across policies and services developed by the United Nations Partnership on Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD). These include equality and non-discrimination, service delivery, accessibility, participation of persons with disabilities, budgeting and financial management compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Moreover, the toolkit outlined a framework of recommendations related on the impact of COVID-19 on the education of children with disabilities, as well as the health, employment and independent and safe living of persons with disabilities. These included recommendations on: accessibility to information and services, building community support, development of disability specific policies and monitoring, and capacity building of persons with disabilities without discrimination and prejudice.

This online discussion was followed by a second segment which focused on the Latin American and Caribbean region, and for which a dedicated tool was also developed.

This initiative is contributing to the United Nations Partnership on Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), which focuses on disability inclusion at various levels of governance, including cities. UNESCO established an Intersectoral Task Team in January 2021 and has put this issue high in the agenda, reviewing COVID responses from this perspectives, and analyzing disability inclusion strategies. The project is also designed within the context of the Roadmap that UNESCO is developing to strengthen its anti-racism and anti-discrimination efforts, following the Global Call against Racism adopted by Member States in December 2020.

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