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  4. March 2021 - Volume 103
  5. Rapid Assessment: COVID-19 Impact on Persons With Disabilities*

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FOCUS March 2021 Volume 103

Rapid Assessment: COVID-19 Impact on Persons With Disabilities*

Jaringan DPO Respon COVID Inklusif

Since the Indonesian government announced the first case of COVID-19 infection on 2 March 2020, Disabled People Organizations (DPOs) started to gather information on how persons with disabilities have been coping with the pandemic, in particular with the prevention and precautionary measures that involved physical distancing. This culminated in an online discussion, held on 27 March 2020, in which one of the consensus decisions was to conduct a joint rapid assessment to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities.

The assessment aimed to know the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities regarding their daily life (social, economic and educational) as well as whether or not the social assistance scheme has been inclusive, and has addressed the challenges of persons with disabilities during the pandemic.

The DPOs communicated this initiative to the Presidential Staff Office and Assistant of Minister for National Development Planning for Poverty and Social Welfare. The DPOs received positive responses during a consultation with officials from these offices and it was agreed that the result of the assessment would be used to improve policy on disability inclusion during pandemic response and recovery.

A network of DPOs COVID Response was formed to jointly organize and implement this assessment, starting from the design of a data collection instrument, organizing the survey, analysis of data, and development of recommendations based on the key findings. Later, a number of development partners joined the initiative through the contribution of experts for analysis and various forms of other support.

Profile of Respondents

The assessment involved 1,683 respondents, coming from thirty-two provinces except Bangka Belitung and Gorontalo. They consisted of 56 percent male and 44 percent female, and represented all types of disability. Age ranges are dominated by those in productive age, followed by children under eighteen years of age and older people (sixty years and above).

During the 10-24 April 2020 period, national and local DPOs endorsed and disseminated the survey forms to gather as many respondents as possible. The survey was conducted online (through google survey form), and offline (face-to-face interview in green areas and phone interview in other places). For those with no internet access and wanted to participate in the survey, a number of local DPOs initiated telephone interviews and entered their answers in the online form.

The majority of respondents come from rural areas (48 percent), followed by those who live in urban areas (29 percent), and suburban areas (23 percent). The assessment revealed that 23.3 percent of respondents (three hundred ninety-three) answered that they lived in the red zone1 of COVID-19. 11.92 percent answered that they have existing high risk co-morbidity and 8.6 percent answered having low risk co-morbidity, and their interaction with the red zone area may create a greater risk of infection.

Key Findings:

Information on COVID-19
•    This study found that persons with disabilities faced serious challenges in accessing COVID-19-related information. 39.7 percent of the respondents did not receive enough information on COVID-19 such as how to prevent infection, available services, available contact centers, and various government programs in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Accessibility issues were experienced by a majority of people who are totally visually impaired, have low vision, and deaf/hard of hearing in various digital and television media such as the absence of sign language interpreter and closed captions, as well as websites that are not accessible using a screen reader or by meeting clear contrast needs of users, and therefore respondents could not fully understand messages made by public officials in TV broadcasts and other platforms.
•    They rely on the family, community and local authorities such as village government for information, particularly for those who are living in rural areas.

Public services
•    The enforcement of massive social restrictions disconnected the intensive services such as therapy from those who need them.

Social Assistance and Economic Recovery
•    After the pandemic started, income fall of up to 80 percent was experienced by 86 percent of respondents who work in the informal sector, which resulted in difficulties in affording basic needs and meeting monthly bills. Moreover, only a small percentage of respondents received support under the government social assistance programs (electricity subsidy - 35.40 percent, water subsidy - 5.16 percent, cash transfer - 4.53 percent, food/non-cash assistance - 11.36 percent, and program keluarga harapan/conditional cash transfer - 13.03 percent). Exclusion of disability as a criterion in the social welfare integrated data was found to be the key cause. Given the preexisting characteristic of financial literacy, where less than 5 percent of respondents allocate savings from their income, the fall of income with little social welfare assistance will lead to significant need for assistance in economic recovery.

•    Only 72.66 percent of the respondents who are enrolled in educational program are still actively studying during the pandemic, either through an online learning platform, or through various types of social media such as WhatsApp group. The remaining 27.34 percent studied independently or stopped studying at all.
•    Those who still actively study online (72.66 percent) reported various challenges including:

•  Difficulty of accessing online platforms due to lack of facility for screen readers;
•  No reasonable accommodation such as sign language and captions during online lectures;
•  Difficulty of internet connection and data costs;
•  Teaching methods that are not adaptive and inclusive for students with disabilities.

Potential Contribution

The study found high interest among persons with disabilities as well as their organizations in contributing to the COVID-19 response and recovery. More than 66 percent of the respondents reported that they were willing to contribute in any way they could, including giving donation, gathering data of persons with disabilities who were impacted by COVID-19, providing education for the community, and making masks and other self-protective tools. The study also found a number of local DPOs taking emergency actions in the COVID-19 response.

In addition to the above findings, the study offers an analysis chapter on the need for concrete and clear inclusion of disability as an item in the operation plan of the COVID-19 Task Force. Different from natural disasters, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in various sectors spread beyond the primary impact (people getting sick due to infection, which may cause death) and have secondary impact (inability of people to undertake activities including work) with persons with disabilities and various vulnerabilities suffering more.

Persons with disabilities who get infected by COVID-19 suffer from primary impact due to delayed health intervention and limited information on where to receive help in areas where they live. Services are also not necessarily accessible for them.

Many persons with disabilities are engaged in precarious work or short-term work without stable income. Without work, as secondary impact, they do not get paid and their well-being and those who rely on them are affected as well. This is a vicious circle as the secondary impact tends to be more complex and related to their social relations, economic situation and well-being. It is also difficult to recover from secondary impact as it goes beyond physical or health recovery.

There is also tertiary impact in the form of dropping out of school, especially if they are from economically disadvantaged background since they cannot afford the equipment needed in online learning. Existing online learning platforms are not accessible for students with disabilities.

Data about the effect of COVID-19 (and disasters in general) should cover information on these interconnected issues. Among disaster risk circle, there is tendency to highlight Human Recovery Needs Assessment (HRNA), and physical and infrastructure recovery while the long-term effects of disasters are overlooked.  


The above findings lead this study to propose the following recommendations.

General Recommendations:

1.    The Task Force on COVID-19, government, and other institutions from national to village levels should ensure participation of persons with disabilities during planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of COVID-19 response and recovery actions to ensure that voices and interests of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups are heard and accommodated;
2.    There should be collection and presentation of disaggregated data in relation to COVID-19 impact, as the availability of such data will inform the services needed and necessary reasonable accommodation.

Specific Recommendations:

3.    Information, education and social support:

  • a. Information on the existing support programs for COVID-19, including education materials, should be made accessible to persons with disabilities, particularly those who live in rural areas. Therefore, collaboration with DPOs is essential up to the village and local community levels, as well as the active role of local government;
  • b. The COVID-19 Task Force and government, at the district level, should ensure that COVID-19 contact centers at the local level are operating, accessible, and are equipped with the network and skill to handle cases of, and provide support needed by, persons with disabilities affected by COVID-19;
  • c. The Ministry of Health, and health service providers, should pay specific attention to persons with disabilities living with high risk co-morbidities because they are most vulnerable to infection without proper knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • d. The Ministry of Health should facilitate the creation of peer groups of people with co-morbidities to share knowledge and experience on managing co-morbidities and practicing healthy life;
  • e. Public service providers and shopping facilities should provide affirmative support for persons with disabilities, particularly during the pandemic, such as:
    • • Special line-up or priority assistance,
    • • Special opening/service hours targeting persons with disabilities and other vulnerable people such as the elderly,
    • • Online, assistance/courier service;

4.    Expansion of social assistance and economic recovery:

a. The government, in collaboration with the business sector, should take serious actions to build resilience and economic recovery of persons with disabilities, particularly those who work in informal sectors. The business activities of persons with disabilities before the COVID-19 pandemic may have lost a market or require adaptation in order to continue.

Therefore, below are the recommended actions:

• Conduct a study to identify challenges and opportunities for economic empowerment and recovery of persons with disabilities during the pandemic;

• Make an economic ecosystem that is inclusive for persons with disabilities, through active engagement of private and business sectors, creative economy, financial services and other relevant stakeholders;

•  Provide capacity-building and assistance to persons with disabilities running their own small business

b. The government, at national and sub-national levels, should expand the social assistance program, targeting specifically persons with disabilities, through:

5. The government, especially the Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Villages, and Ministry of External Affairs, should ensure the provision of necessary assistive devices that support the independence of persons with disabilities;
6. To ensure that during the pandemic, and in the new “normal,” education for persons with disabilities is accessible and considers reasonable accommodations:

• The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Research and Higher Education, together with education providers, should develop a practical guidance to ensure education is properly organized;

• Education providers and creators of apps for learning should collaborate, in consultation with persons with disabilities, to ensure learning apps to be used are accessible

• Education providers should collaborate and engage DPOs in ensuring digital literacy of persons with disabilities in relation to online learning;

• The Ministry of Education should provide support scheme such as data access support, to ensure online learning is affordable for students with disabilities;

7.  Active participation and contribution of persons with disabilities and their organizations;
8. National Disaster Management Authority (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana), Task Force on COVID-19 Response, and other relevant institutions should develop an “operation plan” for the COVID-19 emergency response and recovery that is inclusive of persons with disabilities, and ensure that risk analyses of disability are taken into account.


* This is the edited Executive Summary of the survey report with the same title, released in June 2020 in Jakarta. Jaringan DPO Respon COVID Inklusif received support from several development partner organizations to carry out the second round of the survey that will reach 1,700 respondents with a wider area coverage. This survey started from February 2021.

For further information, please contact: M. Joni Yulianto, Jaringan DPO Respon COVID Inklusif; ph +62 858-7846-9692, e-mail:; Ishak Salim, ph +628124106722, e-mail:;

1    Red Zone refers to one or more clusters reporting high number of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases which necessitate serious health protocols such as closing schools, places of worship and businesses. Travel is limited to essential purposes only. Furthermore, a Red Zone is an area where the government imposed a lockdown or quarantine for the communities that have been confirmed to be infected by COVID-19; people are asked to remain in their homes and their needs are supplied without any physical contact.