Living with a disability amidst the COVID-19 lockdown

By Halima Weibade

For almost two whole years Ugandans suffered the economic, social, and most importantly loss of direction for many but persons with disability suffered even more, just as the misconception of disability being an inability had started to fade away allowing persons with disabilities to enter the countries workforces, and giving them the opportunity to exhibit their proficiencies then came the lockdown restrictions.

Atieno Faith is a 33 years old single mother of two living with disability in Lira city, Faith was a community service counselor for persons with disability and at the onset of the Covid-19 lockdown, she wasn’t able to continue working due to the limitations presented by the total lockdown which did not align with her physical condition.

Just like Faith many persons living with disabilities dealt with challenges like poor access to health services, threats to their security, and societal marginalization which negatively impacted nearly every aspect of their lives. This came from the mistaken belief that disability is somehow contagious and thus they should be rejected; more recurrently, though, it is the result of the far-reaching notion that persons with disabilities must be cared for and kept in restrictive environments for their “protection” —and yet this instead robes them of basic dignity and the fundamental opportunity to explore and comprehend their personal potential.

Faith however did not let this change her aspiration to be of support to people with disabilities,

 “I was a community service counselor in Ayago Ward Lira city for persons with disability but when COVID-19 struck in 2020 I lost my job. Later on, I decided to mobilize the persons with disability (PWDs) in my home community, with whom we formed a group and we were able to secure 15 million UG SHS from (Action for fish farming organization) and started a fish farming project that took us through the COVID-19 lockdown”, says Faith.

According to Faith, fish farming helped her and other women in her group start businesses of their own, which saw Faith start dealing in the produce business which has transformed her life in many ways.

“I chose to start a produce dealing business because it is more lucrative and also people were home, so the demand for food was high at that time.” Faith states

Faith is among the few Ugandans who believe that the COVID-19 lockdown was somehow a positive experience in their lives.

 “To me covid 19 impacted me positively to think outside the box and smell far beyond my nose moving from merely getting facilitation allowances earned as councilor to managing my own finances”, Faith elaborates.

In a report by the Uganda national Action on physical disabilities (UNAPD) disability inclusion efforts had started to gain momentum in Uganda but with the onset of the pandemic and its social restrictions — persons with disabilities were at risk of being pushed even further to the sideline of their communities.

“Yes government distributed food to vulnerable people, but, many persons with physical disabilities in my community were unable to receive these handouts because there were no structures to accommodate us in the distribution exercise, so they were left to suffer in poverty and hunger, thus I decided to lobby trying to find a permanent solution to the problems PWDS in my community was facing, by the grace of GOD I was able to achieve it and that gave me accomplishment as an individual” Faith attests.

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Uganda have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the government had demonstrated a commitment to integrate their specific needs in Covid-19 response plans, PWDS had a shortfall in capacity to articulate their concerns which then would require authorities to go back on the drawing board to find out how persons with disabilities can fear share of the national cake if so to say.

Optimistically Faith continues to run her produce dealing business in Lira city in the midst of a number of challenges that she termed societal ignorance, discrimination, and neglect.

“My biggest challenge is stiff competition in the market sometimes I fail to sale because of my limitations as a person with a disability since my condition does not allow me to run for certain things, and this makes customers feel they rather deal with an able-bodied person, yet it is also difficult to get someone to help you do things just the way you would want it to be done,  this, however, has not stopped me from showing the world that we can do everything if we put our hearts to it”.

According to Faith Sometimes persons with disability despise themselves because of the few things they feel they cannot do which in turn limits them even on the things they can actually do.

“ My appeal to a person with a disability is to believe in your abilities and never limit yourself, always try out everything you are passionate about, for me, I am grateful to my family and donors who believed in me, I see myself growing into a very powerful entrepreneur in the next five years regardless of my disabilities. She states

In April 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said: ‘While the COVID-19 pandemic threatens all members of society, persons with disabilities are inexplicably impacted due to attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the COVID-19 response.’ Yet People with disabilities were already among the most marginalized in most communities – more likely to live in poverty, and experiencing higher rates of violence and neglect.

 Although there is no clear data showing how many persons with disability were affected in Uganda interaction with a few shows that during the lockdown many of them had started to believe that maybe they indeed had inabilities since the lockdown restrictions had little or no consideration for them, according to an ethnographic research report done in Kenya and Bangladesh by the International Disability Alliance persons with disabilities faced employment and job insecurity. In Kenya alone, 68% of persons with disabilities reported not being able to work, while 65% felt insecurity at their current jobs as Many persons with a disability felt shame and embarrassment about being ‘disabled’, a term some of them dislike using but have to use out of necessity.

Conclusively it is imperative for authorities and policymakers to drive in the needs of persons with disability by looking beyond their disability since many just like Faith have proven to be very productive regardless of the challenges they face.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Halima Weibade and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.