Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability
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Public health decisions need to factor in persons with disability

Published 13 Sep 2021

Rachel & Daniel UmanahPublic health decisions need to factor in persons with disability and their specific circumstances, said CRPD Commissioner Samantha Pace Gasan.

She was referring to the case of Rachel Umanah, who has Down Syndrome and is a Maltese citizen, and who will be asked to quarantine in a hotel room after returning from a red zone country.

Rachel’s family have appealed for her to be allowed to quarantine at home, together with her father, due to experiencing anxiety as well as developing challenging behaviour.

‘While the Commission respects the work carried out by the Superintendence of Public Health, this needs to factor in the specific circumstances of persons with disability. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to disability,’ said Commissioner Pace Gasan.

The family are not requesting that they do not oblige to quarantine regulations, but that Rachel and her father are granted an exemption to be able to quarantine at their residence, while being checked upon regularly by enforcement officers, as is the case when people are requested to quarantine at home.

‘Persons with an intellectual disability find it more difficult to understand why they are being put in quarantine in a place that they are not familiar with, and could actually interpret it as punishment,’ said the Commissioner.

The Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) has contacted the Superintendent of Public Health on behalf of the family, requesting an exemption in this case, based on Rachel’s disability.

According to Article 5(3) of the UN Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disability, which has recently been transposed into Chapter 627 of the Laws of Malta, ‘in order to promote equality and eliminate discrimination, States Parties shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided’. ‘Reasonable accommodation’ refers to ‘necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms’.

The Commission has long been pointing out the need for public health decisions to be more nuanced and to factor in or make exemptions for persons with disability. CRPD is currently running an awareness campaign ‘X’tghallimna mill-pandemija?’ on the subject, with findings and recommendations, through the stories of seven persons with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic.