UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday asked for the inclusion of people with disabilities in COVID-19 response.
"I urge governments to place people with disabilities at the centre of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts and to consult and engage people with disabilities," said Guterres in a video message for the launch of a new policy brief.
Even in normal circumstances, people with disabilities are less likely to access education, health care and income opportunities or participate in the community, he said.
People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, and they experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse, he added, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has been intensifying these inequalities and producing new threats, Xinhua news agency reported.
Hardest-hit by the coronavirus
People with disabilities are among the hardest-hit by COVID-19, Guterres said, adding that they face a lack of accessible public health information, significant barriers to implementing basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities.
The share of COVID-19 related deaths in care homes -- where older people with disabilities are over-represented -- ranges from 19 per cent to an astonishing 72 per cent, he noted.
"We cannot let this continue. We must guarantee the equal rights of people with disabilities to access health care and life-saving procedures during the pandemic," the UN chief said.
People with disabilities who faced exclusion in employment before this crisis, are now more likely to lose their jobs and will experience greater difficulties in returning to work, he said.
Guterres mentioned that only 28 per cent of people with significant disabilities have access to benefits and only 1 per cent in low-income countries.
People with disabilities, in particular, women and girls, face a greater risk of domestic violence, which has surged during the pandemic, he said.
The policy brief asked for accessibility of information as well as goods and services to people with disabilities; accessibility of health services, testing and life-saving procedures; expansion of both mainstream and targeted social protection programs for people with disabilities and their families.
Governments, donors, UN agencies and other actors need to establish accountability mechanisms to monitor investments and ensure disability inclusion in COVID-19 response, the brief said.
"Looking to the future, we have a unique opportunity to design and implement more inclusive and accessible societies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals," said Guterres. "When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we are investing in our common future."