The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire world and India was among the worst hit by the deadly second wave. According to health experts, vaccination is one way of preventing or at least reducing the damage caused by the virus.
So far nearly 10% of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated and around 25% people have received their first dose. The percentage of disabled people in this is bleak at best.
Approximately 62 million people in India live with some form of visual impairment. Add to this the count from all 21 types of disabilities, and the numbers are huge. The impairment makes them more susceptible to infection, given the inability to maintain physical distancing and existing co-morbidities.
One would assume that the government has taken these facts into account. But ground reality speaks differently. There is no policy or special provisions in place, to vaccinate the disabled citizens. Accessibility of vaccination centers, online portals and smartphone apps is questionable. Contrary to the laws laid out for the empowerment of persons with disabilities, Covid awareness material is not readily available in accessible formats.
Gaurav Nathe from Nagpur has not taken the vaccine because he was unable to select a slot due to his blindness. Deepak Pasulawar from Chandrapur has not taken it because of rumours that people are dying from the vaccine. Shankar Borkar from Pune and Arvind Hiwale from Buldhana don’t own smartphones and therefore they couldn’t register online. Govind Rode from Beed was simply denied the jab on grounds of his blindness.
These are some of the cases that came to light when Eyeway conducted a survey on issues being faced by blind people vis-à-vis prevention. Several callers complained that they couldn’t navigate through the official website, cowin.gov.in, because it is not compatible with their screen reading software.
Walk-ins have been allowed since June 21, but hospitals are not entirely disabled friendly. It’s hard for a blind person to find his or her way without touching surfaces or bumping into people. Some hospitals don’t even have proper wheelchair access.
However, some people managed to get their shots with the help of family and local NGOs. But large-scale implementation is impossible unless the government machinery is deployed across states. Just the way government ensures that persons with disabilities cast their vote on the Election Day, they need to build a mechanism to safeguard them from this fatal disease. Is it the lack of awareness or sheer apathy?