Impact of coronavirus pandemic on people with disabilities is discussed at the Indonesia Project’s global webinar series, 24 June 2020

On Wednesday 24 June 2020, AIDRAN committee members participated in the global webinar series hosted by the Indonesia Project at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University (ANU). The webinar focused on Covid-19 and vulnerable people in Indonesia, including people living with disabilities. The webinar itself demonstrated a commitment to accessibility, providing Juru Bahasa Isyarat (Indonesian Sign Language) and closed captioning. These services were generously and expertly provided by Melissa Trisetya (JBI), Nisrina Firdausi (JBI) and Dimas Nugroho (closed captioning) who are all AIDRAN members and volunteers at the Center for Disability Services and Studies, Brawijaya University. Over 75 participants attended online from several Australian states, as well as from Indonesia, Singapore and New Zealand.

AIDRAN President, Dr Dina Afrianty (La Trobe University), and AIDRAN Indonesia Chair, Mr Slamet Thohari, MA (Universitas Brawijaya) commenced the program looking at the importance of equal access to education for people living with disabilities and the challenges of online teaching and learning brought on by Covid-19.

Dr Afrianty began with the important reminder that people living with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, highlighting the critical need to factor disability into national and global pandemic responses, including in education. Though progress is being made, Dr Afrianty argued that Indonesian Universities can do more to support students with disabilities by making reasonable adjustments to ensure that tertiary education is accessible during the pandemic. This was highlighted by Dr Afrianty’s reference to a 2017 report from the Ministry of Research, Technology and Higher Education which found that, of over 5 million university students in Indonesia, only 401 identify as having a disability.

Mr Slamet Thohari then discussed the preliminary results of a survey conducted by AIDRAN and Brawijaya University with the support of Knowledge Sector Initiative that examined the experience of students with disabilities who have been forced to learn from home due to Covid-19. Mr Thohari found that 99% of the students experienced difficulties. A major issue was the lack of stable internet connection, especially for the many students with disabilities who live in rural areas. Mr Thohari also found that online teaching platforms and applications do not always cater to a diversity of abilities and often made learning from home more difficult for students. Mr Thohari argued that government guidelines on inclusive teaching online are needed.

Next, Dr Najmah and Associate Professor Sharyn Graham Davies discussed the complexity of Covid-19 among health workers in Indonesia, and the prevention of transmission among children. Dr Najmah’s presentation highlighted that the culture of ‘saving face’ is thought to be contributing to increased spread of the coronavirus as some people who are Covid-19 positive seek to deny their disease, choosing to continue on with life as usual. This choice is, however, often complicated by economic issue and the need to work. Dr Najmah explained how some believe that this culture is putting healthcare works at increased risk as the disease spreads further and more people require hospitalisation. Yet, Dr Najmah found that healthcare workers are also at increased risk of contracting and dying from the novel coronavirus because of vulnerabilities in Indonesia’s healthcare system, including understaffing and the lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

Dr Najmah then discussed the challenges of teaching children how to protect themselves from Covid-19 by performing hygiene measures correctly. Dr Najmah acknowledged that this education process is slow and ongoing and that young children found it particularly difficult to understand because the coronavirus is not something that can be seen.

In conclusion, Dr Najmah and Associate Professor Graham Davies identified that there are divergent cultural and community perceptions about Covid-19, particularly in relation to how it affects healthcare workers. Associate Professor Graham Davies’ acknowledged that there is still shame and stigma around declaring Covid-19 in Indonesia.

The webinar presentations were followed by audience questions. The discussion focused on how information about Covid-19 is communicated to the numerous language groups in Indonesia. Panellists identified the importance of digital technology and social media, especially WhatsApp and a colleague from Singapore discussed the Singaporean government’s reliance on WhatsApp. Dr Dina Afrianty and Mr Slamet Thohari also discussed how, despite the challenges raised by Mr Thohari, online education may present new possibilities and greater access for people living with disabilities. Dr Afrianty also highlighted that the move to online, brought about by Covid-19, could also give people living with mobilities challenges greater access to the jobs market as work can be done from home. Dr Afrianty’s point causes us to consider what we might learn from the experience of Covid-19 in order to create a better, more inclusive future.

AIDRAN would like to thank colleagues at the Indonesia Project, ANU for arranging this important seminar and including a focus on disability.

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