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COVID-19 Exposes Significant Gap in Support Services for Persons with Developmental Disabilities

  • 2021-01-18
  • 2250


COVID-19 Exposes Significant Gap in Support Services for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
-NHRCK stresses the need for fundamental review of current service delivery process and system-

In November 2020, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Young-ae Choi) commissioned the Korean Parents’ Network For People with Disabilities to conduct a survey of 1,174 people on the living conditions of persons with developmental disabilities and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Korea passed the Act on Guarantee of Rights of and Support for Persons with Developmental Disabilities into law in 2015 and introduced a range of supports for those with developmental disabilities with a view to ensuring protection of their rights and enhancing quality of life of their caregivers. With the enactment of law, the government starts to take the place of family members as primary caregiver for persons with developmental disabilities. 


However, family members of people with developmental disabilities still experience a significant burden of care due to the gap in public protection systems.


The survey finds that the current welfare service system for persons with developmental disabilities, which consists of personal, institutional and facility care services, is not functioning properly during the rapid spread of COVID-19. Below are major findings of the survey.


  ① Two out of three respondents have not heard of four emergency services introduced by the government to in the pandemic situation.


  ② A half of people surveyed are not aware of their eligibility for special benefits designed for elementary, middle and high school students with developmental disabilities who need assistive services during pandemic and even if they have heard about such benefits, 16.3% of respondents have not applied for them due to fear of COVID-19 infection.


  ③ The survey revealed that 60.3% lacked access to emergency care services as they were not provided by school and, even if they are available, 29.3% decided not to use them due to concerns about infection.


  ④ Services offered by institutions or facilities, such as service from welfare centers(all people), rehabilitation service for developmental disabilities(those under the age of 18), after-school activity program(students 12 and older), vocational rehabilitation service(adults) and daytime activity program(adults), are now largely inaccessible to those who had regularly used these services before the pandemic. The percentage of users who said they are not given access to these services since the pandemic ranges from 62 percent for rehabilitation service to 97 percent for welfare center programs.


  ⑤ In particular, the disruptions to rehabilitation service, caused by the closure of relevant facilities, are a serious cause for concern, as rehabilitation service had been used by 76.3% of those eligible to use the service (458 of 600 people under the age of 18).


  ⑥ The burden of caring for children with development disabilities falls on parents with the service delivery system coming to a halt during the pandemic. Roughly one out of four people surveyed said that either of their parents quit their job to support them(241 of 1,174 people).


Social distancing measures, introduced to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, have had a devastating impact on the lives of people without disabilities, causing disruptions to their livelihoods. These measures, however, have a disproportionate impact on persons with developmental disabilities who need a wide range of support to carry out their everyday activities.


In the survey, the added burden of care resulting from the closure of educational facilities and transition to online classes(22.5%) and the closure of welfare centers(13.2%) were identified as the two biggest challenges facing family members of persons with developmental disabilities during the pandemic.


Furthermore, the survey found that demand remains strong for personal assistance services despite fears about COVID-19 infection(about 10% drop in rate of usage). The Framework Act on Social Security requires a State to establish a social security net that provides social protection services throughout the entire life of citizens according to their distinct needs during social disasters.


Personal assistance services, personalized services that take into account disability types, should be delivered to fulfill a State’s obligations stipulated under the Act. More efforts are needed to mitigate concern about virus infection and ensure the effective functioning of the system.   


At the Ministerial Meeting for Social Affairs held on November 27 2020, the government reviewed measures for the establishment of sustainable care system during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that the existing support system for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, fails to meet the needs of individual recipients and lacks proactive responses, adding to the burden of childcare of families of persons with disabilities. The government, however, stopped short of proposing practical measures that will help reduce caregiver burden.


The survey on the living conditions of persons with developmental disabilities and their family members during the COVID-19 pandemic was conducted as part of a survey on human rights violations against persons with disabilities committed during the pandemic, which was launched in October 2020 to assess the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities at the national level. The Commission will carry out a detailed analysis of survey findings and bring forward measures to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.

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