Since the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic on the 30th of January 2022 by the World Health Organization (WHO), there has been much debate regarding the effect of the pandemic for Persons with disabilities (PWDs). While COVID-19 cases have been declining in Pakistan, people with disabilities remain vulnerable due to a variety of reasons. According to WHO, some people with disabilities might be at an increased risk of severe illness because of underlying medical conditions. Furthermore, other factors such as inability to access reliable information or health care services can contribute further to deterioration of the health of individuals with special needs.

In this article, we will explain the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic for people with disabilities and provide guidelines using multiple inclusive resources including a few digital resources for Persons with disabilities in Pakistan.


Considerations for Persons with Disabilities During a Disaster or Emergency

An emergency is a life-threatening event that requires immediate action; however, a disaster is a more widespread event, which overwhelms entire communities. Like any other individual, anyone affected by a disability would need to follow the same precautions and access to resources required during a pandemic, natural disaster, or other type of emergency causing a major disruption in communication, access to health care facilities, transportation, etc. A recent example would be lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The below mentioned barriers, risks and precautions provide important considerations for people with a disability and caregivers during a pandemic or emergency.

Barriers for Persons with Disabilities

Some of the barriers for Persons with disabilities including the following:

  • Barriers regarding implementation of basic hygiene measures, such as access to water, may be physically inaccessible or difficult to access.
  • Difficulty in maintaining social distancing due to lack of required assistance during an outbreak of a disease like COVID-19 that requires avoiding crowded spaces and maintaining a safe distance to avoid contracting the disease.
  • Inability to acquire information from the surrounding environment by touching objects.
  • Inability to communicate due to social barriers. For example, someone with impaired hearing might find it difficult to communicate because of his/her inability to lip read people wearing face masks.
  • Barriers to accessing to essential information regarding the disaster or emergency.

Risks to Persons with Disabilities

There can be numerous risks for Persons with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic including:

  • A greater risk of developing severe disease due to COVID-19 infection due to an underlying condition such as a pre-existing health condition or a lack of access to health care services.
  • Disruptions in a normal routine affecting the mental and/or physical health of people suffering from a disability.
  • Deterioration in Lack of access to required services due to lockdowns, shortages of essential commodities, or access to a caregiver.

Digital Tools for Persons with Disabilities

1. Digital Resources for the Hearing and Speech Impaired

People suffering from hearing or speech impairment can benefit from the following resources:

  • People suffering from a hearing or speech impairment can also find a plethora of resources to keep themselves engaged and learn new skills during the COVID-19 pandemic from this Pakistan Sign Language Portal.
  • Voice4U is a free mobile app for Android and iOS devices that enables end users to communicate through symbols. Since accessibility has become a major hurdle during the COVID019 pandemic for people suffering from speech and hearing impairment, using symbols can help them better communicate by using symbols on a mobile screen to express themselves.
  • Google Translate is available via web browser and mobile apps for Android and iOS devices and comes with a text to speech feature to read out text in Urdu, as well as in dozens of other languages, including many regional languages of Pakistan. Google Translate text to speech feature can therefore be useful for persons with disabilities to type text and let the app read it out to people around them. Moreover, it can also help persons with disabilities to overcome translation barriers in the wake of an emergency or disaster by translating and reading out sentences in an electronic voice.

2. Digital Resources for the Visually Impaired

Screen Readers

Screen readers play a major role in enabling people with visual impairment to access digital devices. A few inclusive screen readers designed especially for people with visual impairment include the following:

  • NVDA is a free screen reader for Windows based operating systems designed for the blind and people who suffering from a visual impairment. The software works with applications such as the Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, WordPad, web browsers and various other applications, reading out menus to assist the user in using the applications.
  • Be My Eyes is a free Android and iOS app that connects people with a community of volunteers to assist them in various tasks upon request.
  • Supersense is an Android and iOS app to assist the blind and visually impaired users to read, explore places and find objects.
  • TapTapSee is a mobile app for Android and iOS devices to enable people to tap a picture to listen to the description of the object in front of them.

Text to Speech Services

Other than the built-in ease of access options within operating systems, people who are visually impaired can also benefit from Text to speech services. A few services for text to speech and English and Urdu include the following:

You can use Google Translate and select Urdu for free text to speech or Natural Reader, which is a free English text to speech app available online, for Windows and Mac.

3. Digital Resources for the Physically Disabled

By turning on Voice control or installing an app on your operating system, you can give voice commands to control your digital device. A few voice control services for famous devices are mentioned below:

  • Windows: By turning on Windows Speech Recognition, you can give voice commands to control a Windows based device.
  • Mac: People using Mac devices can enable voice control via Apple menu -> System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Voice Control.
  • iPhone and iPad: You can enable Voice Control via Settings -> Accessibility on iOS devices like an iPhone or iPad to give voice commands to your phone. See more details here:
  • Android: Voice Access is an Android app for people who might have difficulty physically accessing a digital screen on an Android device.

There are also a number of speech to text apps in Urdu including the following:

Ask Bolo

For queries related to services for persons with disabilities in Pakistan, you can send us a private message via our Bolo Facebook Page. Our team of moderators respond to queries from Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.