The World Health Organization released a new report recently, stating that “the number of people with significant disabilities worldwide has risen to 1.3 billion, or one in six people” and also that “there is evidence of higher risk of premature death and illness among many persons with disabilities compared to others“.
Published ahead of December 3rd, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, this is an alarming report because aside from the numbers, the report also brings to light the systemic inequities that remain within healthcare which are the reasons behind “many persons with disabilities facing the risk of dying much earlier – even up to 20 years earlier – than persons without disabilities“.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted on the 13 December 2006 by the sixty-first session of the General Assembly through the resolution A/RES/61/106, defines persons with disabilities as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” and establishes certain ground rules which call for “the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design“. This was done to prevent discrimination and yet then, why so many years later the statistics show a completely different picture?
Inequities still remain and continue to create complications in lives of disabled persons. Especially within the healthcare system, there is evidence which shows people with disability, throughout their lives, face unequal access to healthcare services and have greater unmet healthcare needs. Due to a lack of education and awareness many healthcare systems across the world, especially in developing countries, frequently fail to respond to either the general or the specific healthcare needs of people with disability. People with a disability “encounter a range of attitudinal, physical and systemic barriers when they attempt to access health care“.
Also Read: Disability Is Desirable Too
The inherent specific difficulties for disabled persons
In the overview section of the WHO Disability Global Action report, it is clearly written down that “people with disability face widespread barriers in accessing services, such as those for health care (including medical care, therapy and assistive technologies)… the origin of these barriers lies in, for example, inadequate legislation, policies and strategies; the lack of service provision; problems with the delivery of services; a lack of awareness and understanding about disability; negative attitudes and discrimination; lack of accessibility; inadequate funding; and lack of participation in decisions that directly affect their lives. Specific barriers also exist in relation to persons with disabilities being able to express their opinions and seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through their chosen means of communication“.
This means that there are physical barriers related to the “architectural design” of health facilities. Health providers’ lack adequate knowledge and skills because misconceptions are rampant concerning the health of persons with disabilities, leading to harmful assumptions that persons with disabilities do not require access to health promotion and disease prevention services and programmes.
The social stigma surrounding disability is also a very real thing, there is a lack of respect or biased negative attitudes and behaviour towards persons with disabilities. Due to a glaring lack of information from official sources, persons with disabilities do not even know about their rights to access to certain healthcare services.
Disability is incredibly diverse and no two people face disability in the same manner. Which is why specific individual oriented access to healthcare is so important. Disparities can be reduced by making existing health care systems more inclusive at all levels. In an experiment conducted with disabled patients, building issues and physical barriers were repeatedly mentioned by most patients like “no safe crossing to get to the hospital, uneven pavement on the sidewalk, lack of disabled parking, lack of accessible doors, elevator issues, small washrooms, poor waiting room layouts” and more.
Many also talked about how important “strong positive relationships, particularly with the team and administrative staff, profoundly affected their perceived access and experience of care”. As the experiment states, “Multidirectional, clear, and respectful communication independently improved patients’ experiences dramatically. Participants also said that many access, coordination, and physical barriers were eased by team relationships and communication” (Walji, Sakina et al. “Experiences of patients with a disability in receiving primary health care: Using experience-based design for quality improvement.” Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien vol. 67,7 (2021) ).
The recent report by WHO, therefore, is an eye-opener as to why now, more than ever, the need of the hour is for implementing actions towards a more inclusive healthcare. Alongside awareness, “knowledge and data in health and related ministries should be improved so that they may better consider disability and increase access to services”. National health care policies should acknowledge formally that people with disabilities do experience discrimination. This acknowledgement would be an important step towards providing equal accessible healthcare for everyone in the future. A shared spirit of commitment towards the removal of taboo and social stigma surrounding physical and mental disabilities is perhaps one of the answers towards a more disable-friendly equal world.