‘COVID-19 has made our approach to issues of PwD more hands-on’

Assam Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities talks about the challenges during and after the lockdown

Published - May 01, 2020 11:34 pm IST

Activists and groups dealing with differently abled persons have been appreciative of the sensitivity with which Kausar Hilaly , Assam’s Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, has approached issues related to those with special needs. One of the outcomes is a standard operation procedure for providing emergency support to PwD.

What measures have your office taken to address the issues of PwD since the lockdown began?

COVID-19 has shifted the role and responsibility of the State Commissioner from that of a passive regulatory agency to one that requires a hands-on approach. The biggest challenge was dissemination of information in an accessible format for PwD. The ASDMA was persuaded into developing short videos in Assamese with sign language for the hearing impaired and uploading those on digital platforms. Similarly, material was printed in Braille and distributed for the visually impaired. The Chief Minister’s Office and media houses have accepted our request for providing information in sign language.

Among other challenges was the supply of essential goods and medicines to PwD and facilitating the mobility of their caregivers. The Deputy Commissioners were contacted directly whenever the need arose and steps taken in double-quick time.

How did the SOP for PwD in COVID-19 context come about?

I had written a letter to the ASDMA Chief Executive Officer on April 18 seeking issue of directions to the DCs to provide essential goods and services to PwD, by including them in the category of vulnerable persons. I emphasised that disaster reduction and mitigation based on disability inclusion is the need of the hour and sought taking of steps to ensure the PwD against hunger. The ASDMA notified the SOP on April 24. It is a comprehensive document covering most of the issues escalated to the ASDMA and I understand that no other State has issued any similar notification. The SOP has been printed in Braille and is being uploaded on the Social Welfare Department’s website. Wide publicity is being given so that PwD can approach the authorities for services notified.

How does your office address the issues of PwD?

The PwD comprise 1.54% of Assam’s total population of 3.11 crore (Census 2011).

In normal circumstances, I am not required to coordinate with PwD directly. Those seeking redress of grievances approach me either personally or email their petitions. I take a call on how the petition is to be processed based on the contents.

Has there been any initiative for financial aid to PwD affected by the pandemic?

I have been informed that all disability pensions till March 31, 2020, were released by the Directorate of Social Welfare to the beneficiaries.

Did Assam factor in the needs of PwD from the very outset when responding to the pandemic?

The fact that authorities responded quickly to any SOS from PwD, as conveyed through my office, does go to show that the stakeholders are sensitive to their needs in the State.

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