BENGALURU: A Covid-19 helpline set up to help people with disability (PWD) in the country recently received a message from a speech impaired man living alone in Bengaluru – the helplines were no help at all for people like him.
“He was trying to book an ambulance but since the government helpline numbers are all IVR-based he could not,” said Mini Jain, who initiated the helpline for PWD. “There is no provision to book an ambulance through message/webform. Eventually, one of our volunteers took the details and helped him book an ambulance.”
For PWD, who have always struggled with inclusion, access to healthcare has become even more difficult due to the pandemic. Volunteers say they receive scores of messages asking for help.
“We were approached by an elderly couple, both visually impaired, who had Covid symptoms but were scared to get tested,” said Jain. “We arranged an online consultation and the doctor convinced them to get tested. They tested positive. The next challenge was to ensure they take the right medications. The doctor, assisted by one of our volunteers, agreed to do a video call and explain how to identify the medicines by touching and recognising the shape and size of tablets. He also helped them arrange and sort the medicines based on dosage.”
After office hours, Mini and more than 40 volunteers help PWDs who call +91-8618803780, their helpline number. They collaborate with various NGOs to provide the assistance required. The group has also organised a vaccination drive in Fraser Town only for PWD.
Volunteers point out that awareness content is largely inaccessible. Also, the dearth of content in sign language affects the speech and hearing impaired. For instance, the Covid test bookings, ambulance helpline and war room numbers are all audio enabled only. Most vaccination centres are not wheelchair friendly.
“The challenges vary based on the disability. For example, the CoWIN portal does not comply with accessibility standards which is a barrier for many seeking slots. Many don’t even have access to technology,” Jain said.
Shivram Deshpande, operations head, Samarthanam trust for the disabled, said: “Arogya Sethu app cannot be accessed by visually impaired people like me. Many hospitals are not equipped to deal with PWDs. My speech and hearingimpaired friends who went to the hospital struggled as they couldn’t communicate.”
Vishnu Soman, founder Smileys India, a volunteerbased NGO, said: “We received a call from parents of a child with Down syndrome. They tested positive and wanted to know who would take care of the child since they had to isolate. It was impossible to get someone who was ready to go to their home. There was another request on whether there’s any special accommodation for Covid positive special children.”
Ballurappa, 33 and a musician with Samarthanam’s music band, said he cannot maintain social distance because he needs someone to take him to the hospital when he is sick. “I’m visually impaired,” he said. “Now, don’t know how to go about getting vaccinated. When and where are PWDs going to get it? We have no clue.”