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Virus disempowers those with disability, IHREC warns
Pic: Shutterstock

14 Jan 2021 / human rights Print

Virus disempowers those with disability – IHREC

People with disabilities are still being left behind, and excluded from decision-making, when it comes to COVID-19 planning by the State, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said today. 

The closure of educational settings for disabled students who cannot learn digitally means that their human right to an appropriate education which meets their needs is not being met, IHREC has said, calling for an “equality-based approach” to be taken to the provision of public services.

Actions to protect public health should be informed by human rights and equality principles, IHREC has said, pointing to the distress of parents and carers of children with disabilities who have suffered because of the decision to shut educational services.

“For some families, access to education is a more prominent factor in a child’s developmental needs. Suspension of such services can lead to stagnation and regression, and that ground can be difficult or sometimes impossible to recover, said Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner.


Last June, IHREC’s submission to the Oireachtas COVID-19 committee pointed out that the  impact of the virus on people with disabilities must be set against a standard of equal dignity and equal participation.

If that standard is not met in ‘normal’ times, it can rapidly become a casualty in times of crisis, IHREC told the committee, particularly for those who live in congregated settings.

Full participation in economic, social and cultural life is dependent on the availability of appropriate and accessible services, and reasonable accommodation.

However, collective living arrangements in congregated care settings made already vulnerable people particularly susceptible to COVID-19.


This situation has wide-ranging human rights implications, IHREC told the Oireachtas committee. 

“In circumstances where the World Health Organisation has warned that COVID-19 may never go away, a new approach to care consistent with the highest international human rights standards appears to be urgently necessary,” the committee was told.

The commission recommended that an explicit human rights and equality-based approach be taken to build a transition out of COVID-19 that is fully inclusive of people with disabilities.

Charitable model

“In Ireland, we have made progress in the move from an old charitable, medical model of support for people with disabilities, towards a more holistic rights-based perspective, supporting people to live inclusive, independent lives, culminating in Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2018,” the IHREC submission noted 

But work needs to be done to ensure that all groups of people with disabilities transition out of the emergency phase on an equal basis with each other and the rest of the population.

The alternative risks a permanent erosion of the human rights and equality of people with disabilities, IHREC says.

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