China disability rights pandemic publication cover art

Vulnerable Groups at Risk During a Pandemic

Covid-19 has placed unprecedented challenges on society. Amid the pandemic, persons with
disabilities and especially older persons with disabilities have been disproportionately
affected. As a result of research undertaken during 2020, the China Programme could present the publication “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Older Persons in a Pandemic: Findings from two studies conducted in China” early 2021.

The insights the research publication provides are important both in relation to preparing communities for emergencies and for how to create inclusive societies overall. It is important to note that the failure to include the requirements, experiences and knowledge of persons with disabilities and older persons in the design of communal life already existed before the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, it has now become acutely visible. With the reduction, and sometimes complete shutdown, of vital services, many persons with disabilities have been left without human contact, food, and even medicine.

There is an urgent need to develop solutions and systems that are more resilient and inclusive in order to reach and protect persons with disabilities and older persons. In July 2020, RWI launched a research grant within our disability research network in China to address the rights of persons with disabilities and older persons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The result of this grant is the report The Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Older Persons in a Pandemic: Findings from two studies conducted in China. The report is a collaboration between RWI and two teams of Chinese disability-rights scholars and activists.

The various teams have carried out empirical research on the enjoyment of human rights since the outbreak of Covid-19. The information covers almost every aspect of life, including the enjoyment of a rich plethora of human rights:

“The report presents the lived experiences of persons with disabilities and older people, while simultaneously being firmly focused on solutions. All the lessons learned are intended to help prepare for the continuing impact of Covid-19 and future public crises”, says Malin Oud, Head of Stockholm Office, Director of China Programme, Head of Economic Globalisation and Human Rights Thematic Area.”

Gerard Quinn, the Raoul Wallenberg Chair of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and as of October 2020 UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, also took part in the project: “I hope and expect that this research will provoke much reflection as well as innovation in China. We all share the vision of building a better and more inclusive future”, he says.

Anna Bruce, Senior Researcher, summarises:
“The research in China confirms what we see on a global scale. Our societies and systems had
not made the shift to a human rights approach to persons with disabilities. The existing cracks became abysses during the pandemic. Also, it was not primarily the pandemic as such, but our exclusionary and discriminatory responses to the pandemic which were catastrophic for persons with disabilities. On the bright side, this means we can prevent this from happening again. It is not beyond our control. The research in this report shows us how to move forward. Crucially, it makes plain that persons with disabilities themselves are the experts on their lives and need to lead this process of change.”

Image: The name of the painting is “Xiaoguiwan” (小桂湾), which is a record of Sam’s vacation with his friends in Xiaoguiwan, a resort in Shenzhen, during the pandemic. Sam was very excited by the sandcastles and crabs on the beach, and even the stalls on the roadside. Sam is a 22-year artist with Asperger syndrome from Shenzhen, China.

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