Protecting children and adolescents with disabilities from the pandemic
COVID-19 and children with disabilities in Europe and Central Asia
Children with disabilities are already the most marginalized in the Region, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their isolation. UNICEF is ramping up its work across the Region to ensure their health, education, protection and participation – both now and into the future.
We are appealing for $38 million to shield the most vulnerable children and their families across Europe and Central Asia.
Across Europe and Central Asia, children with disabilities are highly vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and segregation from the rest of society. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, they face even greater risks of exclusion, poverty and a lack of access to crucial services.
There are an estimated 5.1 million children living with disabilities across the Region. We know they face multiple rights violations. They are less likely to attend school, access medical services, or have their voices heard in society. Their disabilities also place them at a higher risk of all forms of abuse, and often exclude them from support during emergencies. They are often missing from national statistics, becoming ‘invisible’ to decision makers, service providers and the public.
Children with disabilities are highly vulnerable to stigma, discrimination and segregation from the rest of society.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious risk to the well-being of every child, but those with disabilities face multiple threats because of the challenges they already face in their daily lives.
- Children with disabilities, particularly those with underlying health conditions, are at higher risk of complications and death as a result of COVID-19 infection.
- Children with disabilities are also one of the poorest groups of people in the Region, which makes them more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 Yet, they are less likely to have access to medical care for COVID-19 infection, as health services are not sensitive to the needs of children with disabilities. These children may also miss out on crucial messages about the pandemic and how to protect themselves as information is not always accessible. Children with disabilities may also have difficulties complying with the measures introduced by governments, for example through a lack of consideration for the needs of children with disabilities when their parents or caregivers are quarantined. Lockdowns and other restrictions have a disproportionate impact on children who rely on essential treatments and services, as well as support at home, such as personal assistance. For many children with disabilities, COVID-19 will only add to the environmental barriers that already hamper their mobility and inclusion.
- Children with disabilities are excluded from current education programmes and there is a lack of consideration for their needs for accessible materials, talking calculators, text magnifiers, modified keyboards, audio books and other devices, as well as additional support from teachers to participate in learning.
- Children with disabilities already face greater risks of exploitation, abuse and violence than other children, as well as institutionalization and separation from their families. As COVID-19 adds to the stresses and pressures on families and communities, these risks are intensified.
- Persistent prejudice, stigma and discrimination heightens the challenges children with disabilities face to participate, make their own decisions and to contribute to the COVID-1 9 response.
Protecting the most vulnerable from the impact of COVID-19
UNICEF is mobilizing every resource possible to protect marginalized and vulnerable children – including those with disabilities – against the impact of COVID 19. We are building on initiatives that are already in place to safeguard their health, education, protection and participation, as well as the shared knowledge gained from long-term partnerships and new, innovative approaches.
UNICEF is concerned that children with disabilities are being excluded from COVID-19 prevention and response measures, despite facing serious risks as a result of the pandemic. We are pushing for their full inclusion and for far greater consideration of their needs in the response.
We are reaching out to local Organizations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) across the Region, aiming to work with them at every stage of the response, from the identification of children and adolescents with disabilities to building the capacity of those responding to COVID-19 to ensure their inclusion. We will mobilize these partnerships to focus on key priorities for children with disabilities throughout this crisis and beyond.
1. Limit human-to-human transmission and protect people from exposure
UNICEF aims to support accessibility to crucial information on the prevention of COVID-19 and the provisions of available assistance for children and adolescents with disabilities in multiple and accessible formats. These include braille, large-print, easy-to-read and audio materials, sign-language videos and accessible web content via technologies such as screen readers. In Albania, for example, we are making our online platforms more accessible. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, our website features an ‘inclusive corner’ where materials are adapted into easy-to-read text, audio and sign-language versions and more. In Kosovo (UNSCR 1244) a tailored social media campaign for children with disabilities (as part of the #WhileAtHome, #LearningAtHome campaign) aims to reach more than 100,000 people and UNICEF Georgia is supporting parents and children with disabilities with social and emotional skills development.
2. Minimize illnesses and deaths
UNICEF is working with communities and OPDs to tackle the barriers to safe access to health services, including the lack of accessible transport and health premises. We are also targeting the discrimination that often pushes those with disabilities down the priority list for medical attention, working with health services to ensure that decisions about treatment are based on human rights. And we are building on the existing training of health and child protection staff on communicating with children with disabilities, including access to sign-language interpreters and other resources.
3. Prevent and address the wider impact of the pandemic
UNICEF is advocating for continued assistance for children with disabilities whose service providers can no longer visit them at home. As in any crisis, we prioritize efforts to keep education going, working with education authorities to ensure that distance learning platforms are safe and accessible to children with disabilities; that teachers are trained to support children with disabilities remotely; and that specialist support is included in measures to support the continuity of education. In Bulgaria, UNICEF’s support for parents includes a video giving advice for parents with hearing impairments on how to talk to their children about COVID-19. In Serbia, a dedicated web-page provides guidance for the parents of autistic children on how to create a daily routine during the pandemic. Experience of the pandemic around the world has shown rises in gender-based violence (GBV) as a result of increased stress. Given that those with disabilities already face a higher risk of violence, we aim for the full inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in any programmes to tackle GBV. Finally, we aim for public messaging that is respectful and free of bias to avoid further stigma against those with disabilities.
We are appealing for $38 million for the Europe and Central Asia Region to expand our work as part of UNICEF’s Global Humanitarian Action for Children (HAC) for COVID-19 response.
The appeal will enable UNICEF to ramp up its existing work with partners to:
- provide supplies to support infection and prevention control and hygiene promotion
- safeguard access to education, social protection, child protection and services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence
- intensify and expand communication and engagement with communities on the risks and prevention of COVID-19
- support continued access to essential health services for women, children and vulnerable communities
- ensure global and regional coordination, and effective data collection on the impact of the pandemic on children in Europe and Central Asia.
- UNICEF Europe & Central Asia Region, Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation Report No. 1, 31 March 2020.
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- Deinstitutionalization for children with disabilities. Technical guidance for UNICEF's engagement in national reform