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Indonesia’s information gap affecting the disabled

In the Covid-19 pandemic, disabled Indonesians had an extra hurdle to overcome when seeking information on health. The country’s information channels rarely took their special needs into account.
Student participating in Braille lesson during pandemic. picture alliance / NurPhoto / Adriana Adie Student participating in Braille lesson during pandemic.

Some 22.5 million Indonesians, representing five percent of the population, were classified as disabled in 2020, according to Indonesia’s Central Bureau of Statistics. In theory these individuals – with impaired vision, hearing or mobility, for example  – have full rights to health information. Under a 2016 law, the government must ensure that all of them can access such information.

In practice, however, the government falls short. Across the country, official information on health – and in particular on preventing and treating Covid-19 – has been less accessible to disabled people than to the general population.

This is only one example of the disadvantages faced by disabled Indonesians. They deal with physical barriers and stigmatisation. In many ways, they thus suffer the fate of other disadvantaged minorities (see Edith Koesoemawiria on www.dandc.eu).

According to recent research from the University of Brawijaya in East Java, a wide information gap separates the disabled from the able-bodied in Indonesia. The study assessed the disability access offered by six government websites, three social-media accounts and five digital publications, all of which deal with the pandemic. It considered whether these channels offer features such as screen-readers and text-to-speech software to enable disabled people to access information.

The survey results were sobering, says researcher Lutfi Amiruddin. Most channels did not have features for the disabled. As a result, of 259 disabled people who used them, 78 % did not become  aware of basic information such as the existence of government-sponsored Covid-19 hotlines. Amiruddin insists that people should know about them since they serve as entry points to the health system for infected people.

Limited access

Part of the problem is that disabled people are disadvantaged in regard to digital technology. Only about 35 % of them have mobile phones or laptops, compared to 82 % of all Indonesians, according to the 2018 National Socio-Economic Survey. Similarly, only nine percent of the disabled have internet access, compared to 46 % of the general population.

The information gap can have serious consequences. For example, disable people were less likely than others to know where to get Covid-19 vaccines in 2021. A survey by the Inclusive Covid Response Network, an advocacy organisation, showed that 54 % of disabled people lacked this basic information. Of disabled people who used digital media, about 43 % lacked this information.

Instead of accessing official information, many disabled people had to rely on advice from family and friends, who may not have been well informed, says Ajiwan Arief Hendradi, a spokesman for the Institute for Inclusion and Advocacy of Persons with Disabilities in Yogyakarta, a city on the island of Java. In particular, disabled people “often received wrong information about the Covid-19 vaccine,” he says.

Beginning in 2021, the Institute started producing information materials for the disabled. These included audio recordings, videos with presenters using sign language and texts produced in braille. The institute distributed 3,000 Braille calendars with information on the Covid-19 vaccine. It also reached out to other disabled groups with vaccine information.

The institute’s efforts to close the gap can be seen as part of a more general effort to disseminate clear and accurate information in Indonesia (see my report on www.dandc.eu). Indonesia’s Covid-19 Handling and National Economic Recovery Committee, a government agency, has taken note of the information gap. It has started to upgrade its website, www.covid19.go.id, with an eye to supporting disabled people. Progress will be made, but it may happen slowly. Bureaucracies typically operate slowly, not only in developing countries and emerging markets.

Ika Ningtyas is a freelance journalist based in Java, Indonesia.