The Pandemic of Accessibility

October 25, 2021

By Alexa Wilder, Eliana Monteforte, Director of Special Projects, Global Health Council

In a time of sustained crisis, governments struggled to leave no one behind. People living with disabilities felt largely invisible during the COVID-19 pandemic as they faced barrier after barrier to information, testing, and treatment services. Like in many other marginalized population groups, civil society advocates emerged to connect community members with necessary goods and services. While these civil society-led efforts were able to address some of the challenges that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, governments need to make accessibility a priority. 

On September 30th, 2021, Global Health Council hosted a multinational community focus group discussion of 15 participants aimed at better understanding the impacts of COVID-19 on people living with a disability. Participants were able to share their lived experiences and stories from working in their communities in a plenary discussion. During this discussion, participants talked about social impacts, issues surrounding access to care and pandemic related information challenges surrounding pandemic response, and civil society’s role in closing those gaps.  

Below are some key takeaways from the focus groups:

Social Impacts

  • People with disabilities felt even more isolated during lockdowns as they were unable to fully utilize video platforms 
  • Without aids and support, families with disabled individuals felt overwhelmed
  • Rates of depression and suicide increased as many disabled individuals felt like a burden to their families 
  • People living with disabilities experienced an Increase in domestic violence particularly during lockdowns when left with their abusers

Access to Care & Information

  • People struggled to receive required medical treatments for chronic conditions because of travel restrictions and a reprioritization of medical centers to COVID-19 related care  
  • Many COVID-19 testing sites were not accessible for those with mobility restrictions or those who required interpretation services 
  • Public sanitation stations were not wheelchair accessible
  • People with disabilities had to fight to be recognized as a priority group for testing and later vaccination
  • Very few media broadcasts with vital COVID-19 recommendations were accessible to people with hearing and visual disabilities 

Pandemic Response

  • The “new normal” includes a shift to online platforms like Zoom or Teams. Moving forward, we need to ensure these platforms are inclusive and include screen readers and sign language interpretation services 
  • Deaf and blinder interpreters were not on the list for vaccine priority, despite the vulnerability of the population they serve
  • Some people were deemed ineligible for COVID-19 relief payments due to prior receipt of disability payments
  • Government work subsidies for disabled communities were scaled back and some were questioned over disability status 
  • Many deaf education centers closed & struggled to move to online platforms
  • Disabled people were underrepresented in COVID-19 related clinical trials

Civil Society Response

  • People with disabilities and disability advocates came together to advocate for policy change 
  • Interpreters worked with healthline to ensure government information could reach the deaf and blind community
  •  Telemedicine is often inaccessible for people with disabilities. Advocates drew the medical community’s attention to this  
  • Requests for accommodations to work from home or be exempt from work were created to shield the most vulnerable
    • Disability educators were connected to students unable to learn remotely or without assistance

Next Steps

Results from this workshop will be included in a GHC publication focused on inequities across marginalized populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. GHC will share messages and key takeaways from this workshop with policymakers and key stakeholders in an event in the Spring of 2022 to ensure these influencers understand how to better support people with disabilities. Further, GHC will use takeaways from these sessions to advocate and support the disabled community as we continue to respond to the pandemic. 

Join Us!

GHC will be continuing this series of focus groups with Black, Latino, indigenous/first national, elderly, refugees/immigrant, and Asian communities. If you or a partner organization are interested in co-hosting, speaking, and/or participating in any of these sessions, please contact Eliana Monteforte at