How COVID impacted the disability sector

Despite the pandemic, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) stepped up its role, ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are factored in policy decisions.

During the year of COVID-19, persons with disability were affected not just by the pandemic itself but also by the social and economic impact deriving from restrictive measures put in place to control its spread.

This is reflected in the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability’s Annual Report for 2020 which shows that although it was a challenging year, it was also an invigorating one, when the Commission’s role of safeguarding the rights of persons with disability was crucial, perhaps more than ever before.

At the end 2020 there were 19,705 persons with a disability registered with the CRPD. Of these, 15,268 had physical disabilities while 3,438 had an intellectual impairment. 2,506 persons had a psychological disability, 1,569 had a hearing impairment and 1,571 had an impairment related to sight.

A new disability taskforce to monitor policies

Following a section-by-section viewpoint, the Report also shows how the Commission worked to ensure that the disability sector was included in decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Commission’s initiative, a disability taskforce was set up in April to work on monitoring and challenging policies and strategies in place that impact persons with disability and their families. CRPD also launched an awareness campaign, shining a light on the lives of persons with disabilities during the pandemic. A research study was also commissioned through the Faculty for Social Wellbeing to assess the effects of the pandemic on the lives of persons with disability and their families.

Aside from this, the work of the Commission’s various departments also took on a different slant due to the pandemic. In 2020, the Investigations Unit received 475 requests for investigations; this was a dramatic decrease from the 629 requests received the previous year. However, the type of cases filed also changed somewhat. A pattern arose whereby the number of cases filed in relation to accessibility and education fell steeply, while cases in relation to employment increased at an equally sharp rate. The reason for such fluctuations can easily be traced to the COVID-19 pandemic, where staying at home became the order of the day, thus less people were reporting lack of accessibility or problems at school.

In 2020, the highest number of these reports were lodged in connection with alleged misuse or abuse of a blue badge (230), while 88 reports were filed relating to matters regarding accessibility. 

Furthermore, the Investigations Unit was called upon to provide advice to the public on 84 instances and has asked technical officers from the Compliance Unit to carry out 117 site inspections in order to determine the level of accessibility in a site which being the subject of an investigation. 

Complaints with regards to the education sector accounted for 39 of the total number of complaints, while the Unit received 39 complaints regarding the provision of goods, services and facilities.

There were also 42 complaints relating to employment and 24 relating to housing, eight complaints with regards to the provision of health services and five alleged breaches of rights of persons with disability.

Also in 2020, CRPD’s Compliance Unit received 4,030 applications. Of these 611 were approved, 2,819 were not approved and 600 fell under the parameters of MEPA Circular 2/14 and were therefore excluded from being vetted by CRPD. 

In 2020, the Test of Reasonableness Board (ToRB) heard 90 cases, out of which 35 were exempted wholly, four were exempted partially and 19 exempted against set conditions. A total of 21 requests for exemption were deemed not reasonable and were thus refused. 

COVID-19 also led to a reduction in the number of EU Disability Cards and blue badges applications. During the year, 2,159 blue badges were collected by CRPD. 2,171 were issued and 1,000 were renewed. 3,134 EU disability card were issued and 1,168 were renewed. 

The UNCRPD and DET Unit continued with the provision of Disability Equality Training (DET) sessions to various public and private entities in 2020, despite the COVID-19 situation. The majority of the training sessions were carried out online through video conferencing. A total of 1,070 attendees followed DET sessions in 2020. 

The Report also refers to three projects as part of the ESF 2.63 Project Knowledge, Training, Communications and Support Measures in Support Of Vulnerable Groups. These are the Research into the current situation of disabled people and employment in Malta; the Research on early intervention services in Malta and the Research on awareness of disability issues among professionals. 

At a time of unprecedented crisis, the CRPD team came together and worked to ensure that persons with disability were included in every decision and at every turn, with the aim of making a difference in the daily lives of persons with disability and their families.

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