On August 27, 2020, AGENDA, ADF, and the ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC) organized the first “Webinar on Disability-Inclusion and COVID-19”. The webinar was the first event in a three-webinar series on mainstreaming disability rights across all ASEAN pillars (political security, economic, and socio-cultural) through the implementation of the Enabling Masterplan. H.E. Kung Phoak (Deputy Secretary General of the ASEAN for Socio-Cultural Community) and Jillian Ray (Development Counsellor of Australian Mission to ASEAN) delivered opening remarks for this forum. H.E. Kung Phoak expressed his sincere gratitude to ADF and AGENDA for supporting ASEC in conducting the webinar while Jillian Ray affirmed Australia’s commitment to the implementation of the Enabling Masterplan. The first session of the webinar discussed “Recognizing New Vulnerabilities and Impacts of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities in the ASEAN region,” which was moderated by Miguel Musngi from ASEC. Wong Yoon Loong from National Council for the Blind (NCBM) spoke on the vulnerabilities faced by persons with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as increased uncertainty and stress, loss of income and livelihood, health and related risks, and the urgent need for digital access. Nguyen Hong Ha of Hanoi Independent Living Center (HILC) mentioned the pandemic has created difficulties for women obtaining medical treatment for reproductive health services and maintaining livelihood due to job loss. Girls with disabilities, especially have seen challenges continuing education and receiving rehabilitation services as many schools and facilities have been closed. Lim Puay Tiak from ADF moderated the second session which discussed “Best Practices and Sustainable Approaches on Engaging Persons with Disabilities”Abner Manlapaz. An ADF representative from the Philippines spoke on best practices in engaging DPOs in COVID-19 response and recovery, which include conducting webinars and surveys to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities and inform decision making. Bagus Utomo, founder of DEFINIT, highlighted approaches to sustainable financing and resources and the importance of providing data on disabilities and social protection programs to best understand how many people receive benefits.
During the webinar, Tolhas Damanik, AGENDA Disability Rights Advisor, moderated a session on “Regional and Global Responses and Opportunities on Disability-Inclusion During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic.” H.E Dr. Richard Tan of the Senior Official Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (SOMSWD) spoke on ASEAN’s efforts in mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities and promoting social protection during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Srinivas Tata of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) spoke on global and regional developments on disability-inclusion. Dr. Sita Sumrit, Assistant Director of Poverty Eradication and Gender Division of ASEC, delivered recommendations generated from the discussions which include identifying best practices and innovative solutions that must be continued; recognition of the intersectionality of gender, age, and disabilities on the ASEAN comprehensive recovering framework; the need for investment to recover from the loss of economic livelihood; an urgent need to promote leadership and engagement of persons with disabilities in the recovery and aftermath decision making; and the engagement of the private sectors in disability-inclusive response and recovery. ASEAN member states also expressed commitment to the health sector, social welfare, the economy, poverty, and rural development and labor as well as focusing on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities. The forum ended with closing remarks from Lim Puay Tiak as he encouraged ASEAN and all stakeholders to work together to reduce inequality for persons with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.