COVID-19 Poses Challenges for Elena with Disabilities

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Elena Kelly, a young woman living with disability from the Guadalcanal province.

BY JOY OFASIA

SOLOMON Islanders with People Living with Disabilities are largely left out of the government and private sector coronavirus response despite being individually affected by the effects of the global pandemic, says Elena Kelly, a young woman living with disability from the Guadalcanal province.

Elena is a second-year student undertaking a Diploma in Business Studies at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) and she called on the government for adequate shipping infrastructure that caters to the mobility and protection of the disabled.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our daily lives, but its impacts are especially for People Living with Disabilities (PWDs), who struggled to cope with the government’s previous repatriation plans (safety procedures on how to ensure a safe return of people with disabilities back to their respective villages or home provinces).

21-year-old Elena was born with physical disabilities on her leg and she has supported her movement with a crutch over the years until now.

She believes that although the government had shown that is committed to recognizing a PWD’s society in the country, it still needs to invest in infrastructures and public transport services that account for the needs of PWDs.

According to her, the government’s previous repatriation plans lack safety to support the movements of PWDs’ are being limited due to the current plan and design of domestic transport systems in the country.

“My experience as a person living with disability occurred earlier this year during the government’s previous nationwide declared State of Public Emergency and repatriation plans in March due to the global pandemic.

“Being disabled, I was frustrated and exhausted whilst faced with difficulties to move around and get on board a ship destined for my home province. How was I to board the ship? Since traveling by ship was the only transport to travel with. I was worried (with panic, fear, and anxiety) of being left behind and not able to go home.

“I struggled to get on board the shipping vessel, however, I was assisted by my family members (who ensured my safe care). Now Elena questioned why the operating shipping vessels in the country had no safety and physical accessibility to access shipping services for people with disabilities,” Ellena described.

The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and the virus is now a global pandemic, spreading to many countries and territories. While Solomon Islands is still without the virus that causes COVID-19.