Virtual roundtable highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities in the Caribbean

In the framework of the first Special Ministerial Conference for Specific Legislation for Persons with Disabilities in the Caribbean, UNESCO and UWICDS invited persons with disabilities from across the Caribbean to a public side-event to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their lives and identify actions forward that could feed into inclusive recovery initiatives.

The discussion at the evening on 27 July 2021, led by Gloria Goffe, Executive Director of the Combined Disabilities Association in Jamaica, revealed societal challenges that hamper equal participation, such as barriers in accessing public services, including health care, education, and social protection.

Over 70 participants from various countries across the Caribbean were connected online and shared their perspectives and lived experiences during the pandemic.

Senator Dr Floyd Morris, CARICOM Special Rapporteur on Disability, explained that before COVID-19, the Caribbean was moving away from the charity-based model of disability, where people depend on others to sustain their lives. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities are now once again relying on the support of family members and friends. 

COVID-19 has put us in a precarious position and exposed the underbelly of persons with disabilities in the Caribbean.
Leroy Phillips, Youth Leader, Guyana

Leroy Phillips also commented that persons with disabilities were put at a disadvantage. He said, "students with physical disabilities were among the hardest hit. Mobility issues and the lack of necessary technology to access education and health services widened the gap between persons with disabilities and the rest of society."

The representative from the Trinidad and Tobago chapter at Disability International raised awareness on the importance of including mental health on the agenda when creating COVID-19 response strategies for persons with disabilities. 

Two young participants indicated that the pandemic had strengthened their skills in using digital tools, which led to more opportunities to work remotely. However, Paralympic Taekwondo athlete Shauna-Kay Hines emphasized that many persons with disabilities are still discriminated against when seeking employment and are thus excluded from the world of work and the possibility of earning their income.