Created general support measures for people with disabilities while placing their interests on the government’s agenda

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Gunta ANČA
SUSTENTO (coordination body for Latvian organisations for disabled people)

The COVID-19 pandemic is a threat to both physical and mental health. Large numbers of people are affected by the adversity of loss of employment and livelihood and a suddenly uncertain future due to the economic consequences and spread of the virus. In these circumstances people are  experiencing such common reactions as fear, depression and anxiety. Those with disabilities and chronic diseases are particularly vulnerable.

In our own organisation – SUSTENTO, the Latvian Umbrella Body For Disability Organisations – we have also been working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak and have done a lot of important work. 

We have been doing our best to champion the rights and interests of people with disabilities and chronic diseases in the country. Many of the government's decisions were made in haste and did not always take into consideration the needs of the most vulnerable groups. By being actively involved in the decision-making process, however, we were able to get the interests of people with disabilities onto the government agenda. 

As a result of their differing abilities and needs, many people received only limited information. 
Information about the pandemic was often difficult to understand, presented in an inaccessible way using jargon and long sentences. It is estimated that around 25% of the population have difficulties in reading comprehension for various reasons: intellectual, cultural, social, linguistic and so on (OECD, 2017). International and national legislation, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, promotes "easy-to-read" or plain language as a fundamental right for equal access and inclusion. This is especially important as the country confronts the pandemic.

Although Latvia has good internet coverage, there are still many people who do not use it. These are often elderly people with chronic illnesses, as well as people with disabilities. In their daily lives, they get information by going to a range of institutions. Now, because of the emergency, they are completely excluded from the flow of information.

Our organisation therefore provides information repackaged in plain Latvian and makes it available in printed form.

The news of the day is translated into plain Latvian and presented in an accessible printed format. It is used on the Latvian national radio programme "News in plain Latvian", which goes out at 9 p.m. every evening, and is also available on the radio channel of Latvia's society for the blind.

Our organisation will be setting up a phone line to provide practical remote support to people who do not have access to the resources of the internet. This will include help in finding the telephone numbers and working hours of the services needed, as well as explanations of how services are provided and of the decisions made, and answering other practical questions.

Information will be provided in Latvian, Russian and English. Information about this support telephone number will be disseminated in a number of ways through the channels mentioned above.

The service will be provided for six months to people with disabilities and chronic diseases, the elderly, non-Latvians for whom Latvian language is not their mother tongue, people with a low level of education and young people who do not read extended texts.