How Did Governments Address the Needs of People With Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic? An Analysis of 14 Countries’ Policies Based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities

Document Type : Original Article


1 School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

2 Center for Interdisciplinaire Research in Rehabilitation of the Greater Montreal (CRIR), Montreal, QC, Canada

3 Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

4 Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

5 School of Rehabiltiation, University of Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada

6 School of International Service and Kogod School of Business, American University, Washington, DC, USA

7 Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP), American University, Washington, DC, USA

8 Kids Brain Health Network, CanChild, Calgary, AB, Canada


People with disabilities have experienced heightened social risks in the context of the pandemic, resulting in higher rates of infection and mortality. They have also borne elevated burdens associated with public health measures. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) obliges its 184 state parties to eliminate discrimination and ensure equality and inclusion for persons with disabilities, including protection and safety in situations of emergency. It remains unclear to what extent national COVID-19 policies have aligned with these commitments under the UNCRPD. Our objective in this exploratory study was to assess alignment between the UNCRPD indicators and COVID-19 policies from 14 countries with the goal of informing policy development that is inclusive of persons with disabilities and responsive to rights under the UNCRPD.

We identified COVID-19 policy documents from 14 purposively selected countries. Country selection considered diversity based on geographic regions and national income levels, with restriction to those countries that had ratified the UNCRPD and had English or French as an official language. We used a computational text mining approach and developed a complex multilevel dictionary or categorization model based on the UNCRPD Bridging the Gap indicators proposed by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR). This dictionary was used to assess the extent to which indicators across the entirety of the UNCRPD were represented in the selected policies. We analyzed frequency of associations with UNCRPD, as well as conducting ‘key word in context’ analyses to identify themes.

We identified 764 COVID-19 national policy documents from the period of January 2020 to June 2021. When analyzed in relation to the Articles of the UNCRPD, the most frequently identified were Articles 11 (risk and humanitarian emergencies), 23 (home and family), 24 (education), and 19 (community living). Six countries produced 27 policies that were specifically focused on disability. Common themes within these documents included continuation of services, intersectionality and equity, and disability considerations in regulations and public health measures.

Analyzing country policies in light of the UNCRPD offers important insights about how these policies do and do not align with states’ commitments. As new policies are developed and existing ones revised, more comprehensive approaches to addressing the rights of persons with disabilities are urgently needed.


Main Subjects

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  • Receive Date: 21 January 2022
  • Revise Date: 11 November 2022
  • Accept Date: 28 January 2023
  • First Publish Date: 30 January 2023