1.1.             ADD International is an international disability rights organisation, with its headquarters in the UK, and country programmes in 5 countries in Asia and Africa (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan). We fight for the independence, equality and opportunity for persons with disabilities (PWD) living in poverty.

1.2.             For more than 30 years, we have been an ally to the global disability movement, working with grassroots activists to advocate for their rights and to build strong and sustainable Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs).

1.3.             We provide capacity building support to DPOs  so that they can secure access to rights and services for their members, challenge discrimination and exclusion at all levels of society, and campaign for policies and services which are inclusive of PWD. We also engage with policymakers and development actors to promote approaches which are based on the voice and lived experience of persons with disabilities (PWD).

1.4.             The following written evidence is based on inputs from our country teams and DPO partners in Africa and Asia as they respond to the unfolding crisis of Coronavirus day by day, and in fast changing contexts.

1.5.             ADD International has also inputted and signed up two other written submissions to this inquiry: the joint submission made by the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC); and the submission by the Bond Disability and Development Group (DDG).

1.6.             We welcome the opportunity to submit oral evidence as needed.



2.1.             We are very pleased and grateful that the IDC has initiated this inquiry in the earlier stages of the Coronavirus pandemic. This bodes well for swift and early planning, co-ordination, commitment and leadership by DFID to ensure that the UK can respond appropriately and in a timely manner to the impact of the pandemic in developing countries.

2.2.             But we are also very concerned that the inquiry – and the UK and international response to date – fails to prioritise the specific and disproportionate impact of Coronavirus on PWD as well as other select groups in society, who are also adversely impacted by Coronavirus.

2.3.             We also emphasise that the UK’s response to the pandemic must focus on the grassroots and community level in developing countries. The experiences of the last few weeks of Coronavirus response in the UK demonstrates the sheer value and need for a mobilised, informed and capacitated grassroots civil society response.

2.4.             In this way, we emphasise to the IDC and DFID that ADD International and its DPO partners – along with hundreds of other international and national civil society organisations working in Africa and Asia – are ready, eager and able to mobilise quickly to accelerate progress towards a disability-inclusive Coronavirus response to ensure that PWD are leading the response from the front, with no-one left behind.

2.5.             Our specific comments follow in the sections here below:


3.1.              The scope of the inquiry focuses on the impact in fragile contexts, such as conflict affected states and countries with high proportions of refugees and/or internally displaced people. While this is vitally important, it overlooks the reality of the experience of many living in poverty and who are socially excluded in countries which are seen as stable – including many PWD. The focus of the UK’s response should be on ‘fragile lives’ rather than just fragile states.

3.2.             The assertion that Coronavirus ‘does not discriminate’ and affects rich and poor alike’ is misleading those who are already socially and economically excluded, such as many PWD, are disproportionately affected by Coronavirus and at risk of being discriminated against in the national responses to the virus.

3.3.             Although infection rates in the countries where we work are still low (but growing), the members of our partner DPOs report that they are already experiencing the impact of the pandemic in the following ways:

3.3.1.        Most DPO members rely on informal income generating activities or day-labour which has already been disrupted by social distancing or lockdown;

3.3.2.        PWD who have lost their daily source of income have limited or no capital to fall back on, with many having to sell business assets to meet immediate needs, impacting on their long-term livelihoods;

3.3.3.        Those PWD who depend on others for personal care and survival (caregivers are overwhelmingly women who are socially and economically excluded themselves) now face reduction or withdrawal of the support they need, as households lose their incomes;

3.3.4.        Social exclusion and communication barriers mean that life-saving information and health messages are not always reaching PWD and are often in inaccessible formats;

3.3.5.        PWD face barriers accessing basic hygiene needed to protect themselves from infection, such as handwashing facilities which are not accessible;

3.3.6.        Mothers of children with disabilities are often socially and economically marginalised, with high levels of abandonment by their partners. As a result, many children with disabilities are likely to suffer more from the economic impact of the virus than other children;

3.3.7.        The closure of schools represents the removal of an important channel for support and information to the most excluded and vulnerable children, such as children with disabilities, and their families;

3.3.8.        As Coronavirus puts economic pressure on communities and households, it is leading to an increase in abusive and discriminatory behaviour towards PWD, including violence against women and girls with disabilities;

3.3.9.        Many PWD are struggling to access, or are excluded from medical services which they rely on to manage existing health conditions, because of the lockdown and because resources are being diverted to the Coronavirus response.



4.1.             Despite the particular vulnerabilities of PWD to the economic, social and medical impact of the virus, national government plans do not currently include any analysis or provision for PWD.

4.2.             In Tanzania for example, the government was quick to produce a national contingency plan to respond to Coronavirus, but there was no mention of disability or other factors such as gender which can intensify exclusion and vulnerability to the impact of the virus, or of the barriers which may prevent many PWD from accessing government relief and support initiatives. On the plus side of this, a prominent national disability leader has been selected to be a member of the national task team guiding the government’s Coronavirus response.

4.3.             In Cambodia, national plans mention communities which are more vulnerable but do not mention disability specifically. In response, NGO platforms are engaging with government to encourage action to support specific groups who are more vulnerable to the impact of the virus, such as women and girls affected by violence, including women and girls with disabilities who are particularly vulnerable.

4.4.             National economic responses to date have tended to focus on big business, with little attention paid to the informal sector which the majority of DPO members rely on for their livelihoods. This has consequences not only for immediate survival, but also for longer term recovery as PWD will struggle to re-establish their income generating activities where they have had to sell assets or use up capital.



5.1.             We know that access to the right information on social distancing, hygiene and accessing medical support is critical for personal protection and for preventing the spread of the virus. However, our country programmes report that reliable and accurate official information is difficult to source, and even where it is available, it does not always reach the most excluded: PWD are often socially isolated, and health messages may be shared in formats which are not accessible for people with hearing or visual impairments, or those with intellectual impairments. Our country programmes also report that misinformation and ‘fake news’ about Coronavirus is rife and being shared widely through social media.

5.2.             ADD is working with DPOs to ensure that up-to-date public information issued by governments is being shared with members in accessible formats, ensuring that the most excluded (eg. by gender, disability type and severity, location, age) are identified and reached. There is also a need to provide advice on how to apply advice in challenging environments – for example how to apply social distancing in households living in compact spaces with multiple family members, and challenges with social isolation where individuals rely on caregivers.

5.3.             As in the UK, social distancing measures are giving rise to new channels of communication and ways of working. In Sudan for example, WhatsApp groups set up to share information on inclusive education are now being used to disseminate information on Coronavirus. ADD is using more mobile-based methods of communication with partner DPOs where people are staying at home, and to overcome problems of power-cuts and lack of broadband. These lines of communication rely on people having and being able to top up mobile phones, and this cost needs to be recognised within budgets.

5.4.             There are significant and valid concerns that official data on the spread of the virus does not reflect the true picture of the spread of the virus or death rates, particularly in marginal or rural areas, or among excluded members of the community such as persons with disabilities.



6.1.             As we are seeing in the UK, it is often community level action which is making a difference in the day to day lives of excluded and vulnerable people during the epidemic, and this is also the experience in the communities where ADD works. While the disability movements at international and national level have an important role to play in advising policymakers, it’s also important to support DPOs working at the grassroots who are in close touch with their members and can provide the link to information, advice, local support services – as well as the solidarity and psycho-social support which are so important for mental resilience.

6.2.             Our partner DPOs are already playing an important role in disseminating public health information to their members, and liaising with service providers and government agencies to ensure that emergency assistance reaches persons with disabilities. In Sudan the Commission for Poverty Reduction has released funding to support 100,000 families who have no income during the lockdown: ADD’s DPO partners are identifying the poorest and most marginalised persons with disabilities within their communities to receive these funds. In Bangladesh DPOs are ensuring that members are able to access social safety-net support by having ID cards which identify them as persons with disabilities.

6.3.             DPOs also have a role to play in engaging with policymakers and service providers to ensure that they are considering disability issues in their response to the pandemic: ADD is supporting DPOs to gather data and evidence on how the virus is impacting on members, and to use this in their engagement with policymakers, so that the lived experience of persons with disabilities in the current lockdown is understood, and the barriers they face in accessing support and services is recognised and built into government response.

6.4.             DPOs need funding and capacity support to fulfil this vital role, including practical inputs needed for community level organisation: equipment and running costs for mobile phone communications; equipment and right information for community volunteers to protect themselves and others.



7.1.             The pandemic highlights the case for international aid – it illustrates as never before the inter-connectedness of development: individual wellbeing is linked to community and global wellbeing; rich countries are affected by how crises are managed in poorer countries; ignoring the most excluded – and taking away their voice and agency in the response - will ultimately impact on the lives of all

7.2.             The crisis underlines the importance of international aid in building civil society resilience and the structures needed to prevent and mitigate pandemics and other shocks in the future. ADD International’s experience demonstrates that where civil society (including DPOs) is strong at community level, it is easier to provide rapid, well-targeted interventions at time of crisis. The immediate funding response to Coronavirus announced by DFID is currently being channelled through international governmental / multilateral organisations and a limited number of large INGOs: DFID should develop funding streams which are designed to reach community-based organisations and to strengthen their capacity to respond to crises at the grassroots.

7.3.             The crisis also underlines the importance of the SDGs’ ‘leave no one behind’ agenda. It will not be possible to tackle the pandemic successfully unless we consider the factors (such as disability, gender, age etc) which make some people more vulnerable to infection and to the economic impact of the pandemic, and address the barriers which they face in accessing support for immediate survival and longer term development.

7.4.             Having up to date, reliable information and data will be key to ensuring interventions are effective, and the Disability Helpdesk within DFID is rightly asking for help and further information from those working on disability inclusion issues within the coronavirus crisis. In order to feed this need for information it will be important to dedicate funding for gathering and analysing data and evidence within projects working at the grassroots as communities respond to the crisis.

7.5.             We welcome DFID ‘flexing’ current funding commitments to enable organisations to adapt programmes to respond to Coronavirus. However, given the disproportionate impact of Coronavirus on PWD, DFID will need to make sure there is additional and sufficient investment over the long term. DFID will need to not only continue to, but also scale up, their leadership in the world and the ways they work with other development agencies to ensure their long-term efforts are inclusive of persons with disabilities and we leave no one behind, now or in the future.


For more information, please contact: Jimmy Innes, Chief Executive, ADD International –