By Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre

COVID-19 has come as a crisis the world was not prepared for. Many women with disabilities have come forward to actively join the crusade to create a safe place for themselves and around themselves. The United Nations and international disability organizations such as Rehabilitation International (RI) and International Disability Alliance (IDA) had come  out with recommendations to help persons with disabilities handle this crisis. However, few of these recommendations were focused on needs of women with disabilities. To make any plan the situation had to be assessed. Reports from the field were thus collected from women with disabilities living in the project area of Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre (SMRC), i.e. Gujarat, Odisha and Telangana as we were told  by  staff in the field that they were undergoing tremendous unforeseen problems. Some insights were shared by Catalina Devandas Aguialr the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which were similar to what we were hearing from the ground. It is obvious that rural poor women with disabilities across the world are affected more than many others, but our experience had shown that they emerge from these challenges due to their own agency  and when they work in solidarity with other women.


There are 11.8 million women with disabilities in India who experience considerable difficulties in the everyday lives. With high poverty levels, poor health conditions, lower incomes, lower education and a patriarchal system they face further dangers in COVID-19.  To take up the challenge immediate steps would have to be taken in the context of food and medicines. It was soon realized some women were getting left out as information by governments which had universal reach was not accessible. We knew from earlier work that hospitals were not accessible and that disability was not a priority. There was thus strong  fear that women would be affected by the novel coronavirus and not be able to reach medical help and access treatment.

Summary: SMRC in its work found that discrimination and stigma increased in many forms. Networks broke down, services and transportation were not available, bringing new issues before women with mobility disabilities and their access to  daily needs. Information to the deaf and those with intellectual disabilities was not available. All the women realized nothing would change unless they get involved themselves. Personal assistants and health care were not available. News was by now filtering in that persons with disabilities were being able to access health care facilities. It was also seen that the new policy of social distancing was again excluding them as they were dependent on personal assistants.

To assess the situation we came to:

  • Realize that data from the field had to be collected and analyzed to understand that the issue was of the most importance;
  • We would ensure participation of women with disabilities in all our work;
  • Pay attention we do not miss out on the intersectional ties of disability and we include women of all classes, indigenous women (Adivasis), Dalits (low caste and very poor with no income).

Collecting Data

The State coordinators and field workers started to get in touch with the women from the project field telephonically.

  1. SMRC’s Project Area (25th—30th March 2020: Data from Gujarat, Odisha and Telangana)
  1. Women with Disabilities India Network
  • Social distancing is not possible as women are dependent on personal attendants and cannot maintain the distance required. In many cases personal attendants are outsiders increasing the incidence level amongst persons with
  • Personal assistants they depend upon are missing in many cases as: (1)They have gone home and have not been able to return; (2)They have abandoned the women leaving them defenseless and dependent on neighbors and familymembers; (3)

They come in daily and are not being allowed by the police.

  • Many women living independently have not been able to access daily needs in many places where: (1)They do not have help to fetch groceries from the markets; (2)Online

orders cannot be made as forms are not in accessible formats. Many are dependent on home delivery, but it is not available everywhere.

  • Health facilities have been difficult to access as they cannot go to police stations to request passes. In many cases they are denied medical
  • There has been an increase in violence from partners and personal attendants as stress levels within the household increases. There is also no community watch and women with disabilities choose to keep quiet as they fear abandonment by
  • Psychological stress has increased in the neighborhood affecting everyone. As women with disabilities have experience in combating loneliness and isolation, this gives them more insights into resisting these. They can help people in the community, at this stage when everyone is threatened by isolation, and create a more understanding atmosphere  of the situation they have lived all their
  • Income generation activities have closed so no income for the
  • Majority of them are wage labours, house maids, construction workers, petty shop managers, vegetable vendors, etc; and some of them are single and abandoned Because of the COVID-19 effect, all of them have lost their wages and there is no income for them to purchase the food grains to feed the family. They are in distress and requested us to support them.
  • The 1000Rs promised by government has yet to reach them and the ones that do not have a bank account will be deprived of money. The nearby ATMs do not have money  and they need support to go far Moreover. the police stop them at every step and  the family avoids taking them.
  • Urgent need of sanitary pads and medicines which the women need on an everyday basis are As it is locked down, they cannot go and get them and somebody else cannot go and collect them from the government hospital, so some mid-way has to be developed for them to survive during this period.
  • No sanitizers and masks are Moreover, the prices are higher and they cannot afford them.
  • The grocery shops are open for a limited period and as they are slow they get pushed Many had little food left and needed somebody to help them buy the necessary items, to be able to eat two meals a day.
  • Housing/shelter is a major A woman with a disability was asked to leave a petty shop she ran and where she slept at night, by the person who rented it to her. She could not go home as her husband was abusive. She shifted out and has to sleep outside with her children under a piece of old polythene she salvaged. She has asked the government for polythene provided during disasters but has been refused as COVID-19  is not a “disaster” in the conventional sense.
  • Another woman has been forced to move out from her rented hut to wash utensils along with her children in a small roadside food place (dhaba/diner) catering to truckers so that can get a place to stay at These places are open to abuse.
  • Some women with disabilities were earning their living by growing vegetables but cannot sell it as transportation is not available to take the crop to the Therefore they have no money and no work.
  • Many people and also government have been sending money/cash to  organisations to help the The organisations have sent the girls and  women home without  the money. The women are getting neglected by the family as well as by these organisations.
  • Those earning daily wages cannot access
  • The women with thalassemia are not getting

SMRC’s work in the disability community offers a lens to identify barriers and vulnerabilities and to get out of this situation together with women we are trying out to:

As COVID-19 peaks and stronger lockdown measures are taken, mobility is becoming more difficult. Some issues are taken up at national and international level:
Disability is still an issue on the margins, and fear of institutionalization is high, but voices are getting louder and visibility is increasing, including those of  the women. Let  us, all in our community, help wherever we can.

We need to think of the present but also of the future and how we can recover as in many cases incomes are no longer available.

We look forward to your suggestions and information. Provide suggestions to what needs  to be advocated at local, national and international level.

Email to Call tel: 9937212367 (Aditi Panda National Coordinator) 7978536209 (Kalika Mohapatra COVID-19 Coordinator) 9438689316 (Poonam Nayak Odisha Coordinator) 9879003981 (Nita Panchal Gujarat Coordinator) 9885025175 (B.Swarooparani Telangana Coordinator)

Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre, PII Jaydev Vihar, Bhubaneswar, Odisha