December 3 is International Persons with Disabilities Day

In 1992, the United Nations declared December 3 International Day of Disabled Persons to raise awareness of the rights, well-being, and political, social, cultural, and economic struggles of persons with disabilities around the world. This year’s theme, “fighting for rights in the post-COVID era”, focuses on the challenges, barriers, and opportunities for people with disabilities in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic.


International Day of People with Disabilities logo

Challenges & Barriers

People with disabilities, particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color with disabilities, people with disabilities with low incomes, people with mental health disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities, people with disabilities living in group home settings, people with multiple disabilities, parents with disabilities, children with disabilities, refugees and displaced people with disabilities, incarcerated people with disabilities, and people with disabilities without homes have been drastically and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

People with disabilities who get COVID-19 face poorer health outcomes and increased risk of death. Data from the UK show the risk of death from COVID-19 for people with disabilities is 2–3 times higher than for people without disabilities. The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have forced many people with disabilities to delay critical and routine health care treatment. During the pandemic, people with disabilities have had less access to health care, rehabilitation, community-based home care services, and resources that could help reduce risks of infection and serious illness.

The social impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and distancing is also disproportionate for people with disabilities. Lockdown increased isolation and social exclusion, particularly for people without high-speed internet access. The lack of safe, accessible transportation and lack of access to assistive technology maintenance and repairs have made it more difficult for people with disabilities to communicate and get needed services. Stay-at-home orders have increased the risks of sexual and physical victimization from caregivers and family members of people with disabilities.

Globally, 4 in 5 people with disabilities live in low- and middle-income countries with inadequate protection and inaccessible institutions. The International Disability Alliance has gathered stories from people with disabilities around the world about their experiences during COVID-19.

Mia, a woman from Lebanon with Down syndrome, shared:

“The situation due to COVID-19 is very stressful. The number of people infected with the virus is increasing every day and so is the number of deaths. This scares me very much, especially since we don’t know when this will end. The hospitals are full, and I am very worried, I wonder what could happen if I get sick and have to go to the hospital…. I have thyroid problems and I need to do regular tests. Since the lockdown, I can no longer do them and can’t see my doctor. I keep taking my medication, without knowing if I should increase or decrease the dose, and this scares me.”

Israel, a disability inclusive development specialist from Nigeria who has a mobility disability shared how COVID-19 has exacerbated hunger in his country:

“In developing countries at least 20% of the poorest of the poor are persons with disabilities. I’m afraid that we’ll be losing most of them. Not because of COVID-19 but because of hunger…Someone that could not feed himself before, they have to depend on others or probably depend on begging on the street. Or someone who is unemployed. I know a lot of qualified people with disabilities that don’t have a job. So now their situation has worsened. What will they eat? Hunger will kill them even more than the COVID-19.”


Many accessibility barriers that people with disabilities experienced before the pandemic were exacerbated once COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic has also revealed what many people with disabilities have known for decades: with basic accommodations, many daily life interactions and activities are accessible. Further, if the system were designed to be universally inclusive, more people could access goods, services, work, and community without accommodations.

For example, for people with broadband internet access, working and communicating virtually has helped improve workplace, social, and health care inclusion. Previously, people were expected to join every work meeting, social event, doctor’s appointment, and conference in person, but many of us have adapted to meeting online, using video conferencing software. Video conferencing companies have been pushed to evolve and improve their accessibility as well. People with and without disabilities can benefit from the flexibility of working from home and avoiding long commute times and traffic.

What does this mean for a post-COVID world? Now, with lockdowns lifted in many parts of the world, we should shift the focus from “returning to normal” to reimaging inclusion. Sonya Renee Taylor, poet, activist, and author of the book, “The Body is Not an Apology,” speaks about this concept of “returning to normal” after COVID-19:

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” — Sonya Renee Taylor

This year on International Persons with Disabilities Day, let’s consider how to let go of our old conventions and reimagine a more fully inclusive, accessible, interconnected, global reality.

Additional Resources:

Information from this blog comes from the following sources: