The China Development Brief (CDB) Forum 2020 was held in Beijing on December 9, 2020 and focused on “Challenges and Responses for Cross-Border Philanthropy under COVID-19.” Leaders from NGOS and experts in relevant fields discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected organisations’ survival and development, grassroots-level struggles faced by communities, and the pursuit of social wellbeing. Below is an excerpt from an abridged compilation of statements shared by guests participating in Roundtable Discussion 1.
This excerpt concentrates on Director General of Handicap International China Programme Shi Yu’s perspective. Shi stressed severe challenges faced by people in the pandemic caused by the insufficient consideration of their needs when making relevant policies fighting against the virus. As a leader in an international NGO, Shi demonstrated Handicap International’s coping strategies to meet the needs of people with disabilities from three perspectives. In particular, Shi reiterated the importance of social inclusion and how to continue building a more inclusive society in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
Shi Yu: Due to the pandemic, the chief representative of Handicap International China has not yet had the opportunity to enter China, and I am here to share my thoughts instead.
This suggests the pandemic has affected us and may continue to do so for some time. Handicap International, founded in 1982, is an international development organisation providing humanitarian assistance to people with disabilities and fighting for their rights, and currently has programmes in 61 countries around the world. The organisation entered China in 1998.
We all know that people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable people in the world under the impact of the pandemic. While China has taken numerous actions to address the impact of the pandemic, the sudden outbreak of epidemic has often led to the needs of people with disabilities being overlooked; their needs for knowledge, information and other needs are usually not adequately addressed during the outbreak. How do we better integrate people with disabilities into society and provide them with more inclusive support at this stage of the epidemic norm? This is the question to be thought over by organisations that are working with people with disabilities.
In the wake of the epidemic, we held a workshop with people with disabilities to discuss how to deal with the challenges posed by the epidemic. There are changes in the society that might not have been a problem for people without disabilities, but are new challenges for people with disabilities. Following the outbreak, for example, everyone was required to scan QR codes and have their body temperature taken when entering the neighbourhood, which made some visually impaired residents feel helpless. Information about the outbreak was disseminated via radio and TV, but the hearing-impaired did not know what was going on which, combined with their lack of communication skills, left them in a state of helplessness. There were also physically handicapped people using wheelchairs or crutches, but many public settings were sprayed with disinfectant and the floors became slippery, which increased the likelihood of their falling. Many problems have emerged along with the pandemic.
We at Handicap International responded (to those aforementioned problems and gasp of services) primarily in three ways, firstly from Handicap International’s own perspective: the outbreak and continuation of the pandemic pushed us to move more quickly in the direction we had already envisaged previously. We began to develop more online learning tools. Online learning helps us reach vulnerable groups that may not have the time or opportunity to attend face-to-face training or awareness-raising events on site, while online events allow for larger coverage. Also, by shifting to online training, the amount of transit required will be reduced, which is conducive for both efficiency and environmental protection.
Secondly, we responded from the perspective of our partners: local NGOs working with people with disabilities face major challenges during the pandemic. If they are infected with the coronavirus, people with disabilities are more likely to develop severe symptoms. This is certainly not true for all people with disabilities, but it is true for those with certain disabilities, such as those with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury, etc. They need the care of others, which requires close contact with others and means they are at greater risk of contracting respiratory viruses such as COVID-19. Moreover, people who are afflicted with mental disorders tend to face greater stress and anxiety after an outbreak than people without disabilities, and they need support and the services provided by support agencies. But unfortunately, support services in the communities are often not available at this time when they need them most. We are still working to develop strategies to become better ready for future situations.
Thirdly, we responded from the perspective of social inclusion of people with disabilities in the pandemic: according to international experience in humanitarian or emergency response, some people with disabilities, such as those with mental, hearing, and visual impairments, often do not have access to information about the emergency. The lack of information can increase their anxiety. This requires us to prepare messages and materials for community awareness-raising and education in a way that is accessible to all; namely, our materials should not only be in written form, but also in the forms of pictures, videos, and audio platforms, etc.
During the pandemic norm, we need to better reinforce the social inclusion of people with disabilities. This is because many of the measures, policies, and work methods adopted during the pandemic were designed from a non-handicapped perspective. In the future, we need to consider the needs of people with disabilities, so that society can better integrate them.