S. Mohapatra1, N.R. Devi2, A.G. Maiya1
1Manipal College of Health Professions, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Department of Physiotherapy, Udupi, India, 2Manipal School of Architecture and Planning, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Udupi, India

Background: The pandemic and consequent mandatory requirement of physical distancing have impacted the well-being of people worldwide. Individuals with disabilities (IwD) are at a higher risk of exclusion with the already existing gap in the provision of accessibility guidelines. The use of assistive devices, nationwide lockdown, and the need for physical distancing has added to the challenges encountered by IwD. The inability to access basic necessities and de-prioritized considerations have increased the vulnerability of IwD. Most IwD need constant healthcare services that continue even during the pandemic. Lack of accessibility to public facilities can impact the health, education, employment, and social well-being of IwD. The policies ratified as a response to tackle the pandemic need to be inclusive and ensure the accessibility needs of IwD are adequately met. Thus it is essential to explore the challenges encountered by IwD during the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown to help in policy ratifications.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the challenges encountered by individuals with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown in India.

Methods: This study was initiated as a part of an ongoing larger accessibility project in the city of Udupi, Karnataka, India. A qualitative exploratory study was carried out using an interview guide. The study was carried out based on the principles of narrative inquiry. A semi-structured interview guide was developed and validated to ensure the generalizability of findings. Twelve adults with a variety of long-term physical disabilities were recruited using purposive sampling to participate in the interviews. The participants recruited were above the age of 18 years, had congenital or acquired disabilities, and belonged to either gender. The experiential narratives were collected in Kanada. The interview data were transcribed and translated into English. The data were inductively coded and thematically analyzed.

Results: Findings confirmed that IwD experienced heightened challenges during the pandemic and nationwide lockdown. Social isolation and access to healthcare services were two of the major challenges. Weekly rehabilitation programs were a form of socialization for some of the participants. This was restricted during the lockdown. Challenges pertaining to formal and informal caregivers were also reported. One of the positive findings was the solidarity shown by neighbours and local community like the basic amenities retail outlets. The findings may provide a new insight in the development of a disability inclusive COVID-19 response.

Conclusion(s): The results of this study suggest that challenges encountered by IwD are largely context-specific and have not been addressed in the COVID-19 response. Community mobilization could be one of the strtegies for improving accessibility and mitigating the challenges encountered by IwD.

Implications: This study shows that the one-size-fits-all pandemic response during COVID-19 in India increased challenges for IwD. This study holds significant implications for public adminstrators in understanding the stakeholders’ perspectives towards a disability-inclusive COVID-19 response.

Funding, acknowledgements: NIL

Keywords: accessibility, disability, legislation

Topic: Disability & rehabilitation

Did this work require ethics approval? Yes
Institution: Kasturba Medical College
Committee: Institutional Ethics Committee
Ethics number: IEC: 769/2017

All authors, affiliations and abstracts have been published as submitted.

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