I am Bruna and I attended the ACFID conference and especially loved the story of how the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal (NFDN) worked during the COVID-19 pandemic to establish disability inclusive structures to enhance capacity and promote meaningful participation for people with disabilities. I am passionate about accessibility and inclusion and the way they handled the situation shows how much can be done to include people with disability in the COVID-19 response and also how imperative it is that we include them in this discussion.

It is well known that countries such as Indonesia, Nepal and Fiji are experiencing the devastating and far-reaching impacts of the pandemic and as seen in other recent emergencies and disasters, people with disabilities are most at risk. COVID-19 is deepening pre-existing inequalities and people with disabilities are often at the back of the line in COVID responses. Given the circumstances, Manish Prasai, from Nepal, briefly explored how the NFDN fought to promote access and inclusion of people with disability in the COVID-19 response.

During the first wave of the pandemic, in 2020, the NFDN assumed that the people with disability could be most affected in the pandemic, based on their knowledge and information, so they issued and disseminated general guidelines for all stakeholders and people with disability. It was indeed a very complicated time for people with disability because there was so much fake news and misinformation about COVID infection and its effect on the human body that people with disability faced a number of barriers to have access to authentic information.

To mitigate the situation the NFDN conducted a rapid assessment on the impact of lockdown and travel restrictions in the life of people with disability and found that many people with disabilities had lost their daily income, were deprived of health services and health facilities they had access to before; COVID-related information was not accessible to them; they were under mental stress and in some places they were facing abuse and violence at home. Based on this first piece of information they mobilised their structures and local organisation of people with disability for advocacy and in collaboration with CDM global they conducted a COVID response program in four municipalities. The main goals of this response program was (1) the creation and ample distribution of COVID-related information among people with disability, (2) the provision of psychosocial counselling in collaboration with partners; and a at a national level, the dissemination of information by the Minister of Health, in more than two languages and accessible format through YouTube channels, social media, TV channels, etc.

During the second wave of the pandemic, in April 2021, the situation was different and easier to handle because people with disabilities knew more about the pandemic and governments and NGOs worked hard to promote authentic information about COVID-19. During this wave, they also asked the Minister to prioritise people with disability with vaccination and people benefited from this policy.

This experience shows how important it is to include people with disability in the COVID-19 response as it positively impacted not only people with disabilities but also their carers, their communities and society more broadly. So, the main takeaway message for me is that many problems can be solved by joint-venture, even in a very difficult situation such as the one we are facing now. And most importantly, as Manish Prasai highlighted, “this exercise proved that in the situation of humanitarian emergency people with disability were not only the beneficiaries but they were also the contributors”.

NFDN (or National Federation of the Disabled Nepal) is an organisation that advocates for the rights, interests and entitlements for people with disability across Nepal. NFDN has more than 300 member organisations in 74 districts and works in coordination and partnership with national and international governments and NGO bodies to establish disability inclusive structures to enhance capacity and promote meaningful participation for people with disabilities.

Written by Canberra Advocate, Bruna Contro de Godoy