COVID Blog: How Indian Disability Non-profits are Evolving to Face the Challenges of COVID-19

By Arundhati Nath

From global containment failures to the improper development of disaster-resistant systems, COVID-19 has severely affected the economic, social, educational, and healthcare requirements of all individuals, especially those with disabilities. In India, where people with disabilities have traditionally faced adversity because of inaccessibility and stigmatization, this reality is clear. 

When the pandemic hit, funding for non-profit organizations that support people with disabilities diminished. Businesses ceased donating to accommodate for their decreased profits, and any other available contributions shifted to the government’s COVID-19 relief fund, exacerbating the societal effects of the virus and inhibiting the already limited aid that organizations could provide. 

“In April, when I called up a company that had promised to fund us earlier, they had expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to donate… During the pandemic, as funding has been hit, we had to reduce staff members and are unable to take up any new activities because there is a constraint on available budgets” says Ramya Miryala, Director, Deaf Enabled Foundation, Hyderabad. 

Puducherry-based 25-year-old Satish Kumar is a deaf small business owner with a speech disability. With four family members who are dependent on him, he has felt the direct impact of the pandemic and the reduction of assistance. “Since the lockdown started, we are using the basic essentials very carefully in smaller quantities so that we don’t waste much on it,” Satish says.

Satish and individuals like him are sacrificing and re-adjusting to the new reality of support to protect their families’ wellbeing with self-determination, but millions of Indians with disabilities still do not have their essential needs met, exposing the weaknesses of the pre-COVID support system that identified people with disabilities as just targets of charity.

People with disabilities like Satish are resilient and capable of helping themselves with the proper training, accommodations, and resources. Fortunately, non-profit organizations are beginning to take notice and adapt to a model of support that chooses to empower individuals with disabilities instead of solely depending on the contribution of others. Ramya Miryala’s organization, Deaf Enabled Foundation, is “an organization of the Deaf, for the Deaf, and by the Deaf”, and has noticed that these services are in even higher demand since the onset of the pandemic. “We have seen a surge in deaf people signing up for our free employment-led, skill development online workshops, and we are helping them as best as we can,” says Miryala.

Some empowerment-focused non-profit organizations, like the Delhi-based SCORE Foundation and the NCPEDP, are aiding people with disabilities through dedicated telephone help lines, which provide critical information and answer any questions that someone may have during the current crisis. These organizations are also conducting webinars and online events that teach people how to handle the emotional toll of the pandemic while living with a disability in India. However, the effects of COVID-19 extend beyond the lives of adults with disabilities and require non-profit organizations to also find innovative solutions for providing students with disabilities access to online learning.

With educational institutions closed due to the spread of the virus, accessibility to online education has been a problem for a multitude of children with disabilities. Many parents cannot afford essential technology like laptops, mobile phones or accessible software. Even for those who can, it has not been easy: numerous educational platforms are inaccessible, teachers are inadequately trained, and people fail to understand students’ accessibility needs. 

To counter the challenges posed by online learning and reinforce a sense of empowerment, some non-profit organizations have been conducting accessible online classes, art activities, and recreational sessions, creating an inclusive education and some fun during the pandemic.

There is little doubt that the pandemic has made life challenging for everyone, depleted resources, and generated untold uncertainty. Yet, it has revealed the vulnerabilities in the former system – calling for fundamental change in how we help those with disabilities. As non-profit organizations continue to work hard, evolve, and find new ways to assist adults and children with disabilities, we must embrace a resilient perspective on disability that demands equity and asserts the capabilities and dignity of every human being. 

Links to sources mentioned & references, in order of appearance:

Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES). PM CARES website

National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). NCPEDP website

The Hindu. “Online classes make learning curve steeper for children with disabilities”, by K.C. Deepika. July 8, 2020.

Indian Express. “Many students with disabilities struggling with e-education, NGOs call for more accessible approach”, by PTI. June 21, 2020.

Efforts For Good. “Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States”. April 19, 2020.

The Quint. “India’s COVID Crisis: Why Govt Should’ve Worked With Civil Society”, by Dr. Priyadarshini Singh. September 1, 2020.

CRISIL Foundation. “Pandemic could devour bulk of CSR kitty this year”. June 9, 2020.

IndiaSpend. “PM CARES Received At Least $1.27 Bn In Donations–Enough To Fund Over 21.5 Mn COVID-19 Tests”, by Anoo Bhuyan, Prachi Salve. May 20, 2020.

FirstPost. “COVID-19 impact is massive, but other social causes need CSR funding too, say NGOs”. August 5, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of Arundhati Nath, an Indian woman with shoulder length black hair. She is wearing a bright patterned top.

Arundhati Nath is a full-time, visually impaired freelance journalist and children’s author from Guwahati in Northeast India. She writes about disability and human rights, development, women’s issues, healthcare, culture, the environment, wildlife and conservation. She has been published in The Guardian, BBC News, CSMonitor, Aljazeera English, BBC Wildlife, South China Morning Post, Reader’s Digest and several others. 

Arundhati can be reached at natharundhati@gmail.com and her work can be viewed online at her website, www.arundhatinath.com.


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