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Leave No One Behind: Building a disability-inclusive COVID-19 recovery plan for Sri Lanka

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By Lakshila Wanigasinghe

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) are an important group that needs to be considered when building an all-inclusive COVID-19 recovery plan. They often tend to get excluded or only partly considered due to the heterogeneous nature of the difficulties they face owing to the diversity in the types of disabilities and support required. This blog explores the significant challenges faced by PWDs amidst COVID-19 and outlines strategies that Sri Lanka can adopt towards ensuring an inclusive recovery.

PWDs and Emerging Challenges

Over 1 billion people around the world live with some form of disability, accounting for 15% of the world population as shown in Figure 1. Around 80% of PWDs live in developing countries including 1,617,924 persons in Sri Lanka (as of 2012). Hardships faced by such persons are greater for those living in developing countries due to limited resources and facilities available to them. Many developing countries lack resources to detect disability early on, have inadequate rehabilitation facilities, and lag in updated research and strategies to support PWDs. This is the case in Sri Lanka where PWDs have inadequate access to society, education, specialised healthcare, and employment opportunities in comparison to developed countries.

Adversities faced by PWDs have escalated due to COVID-19. A study conducted by Global Disability Inclusion found that apart from heightened health risks, the pandemic significantly affected the employment and financial security of PWDs. This can widen existing disparities and lead to long-term consequences such as higher poverty rates, lower wages and increased costs of living among such persons, thereby leaving lasting impacts on their lives.

While COVID-19 has affected the global population, its effects are distinct and intensified for PWDs. Their pre-existing health conditions put them at greater risk of contracting the virus, experiencing severe symptoms and higher mortality rates. Depending on the nature of their disability, some individuals are unable to effectively communicate their symptoms or practice preventative measures such as regular sanitisation.

Lack of access to public health information due to physical, mental or sensory impairments poses a higher risk of PWDs contracting COVID-19 by being unaware of symptoms and precautionary measures that need to be taken. Disproportionate access to information also poses a threat when implementing recovery procedures.

Lockdowns and social distancing policies limit access to caretakers and medical professionals, putting those unable to care for themselves at substantial risk while in isolation. Lockdowns can also prevent PWDs from accessing basic necessities and seeking regular medical care. Further, school closures and the switch to distance education have led to higher learning disruptions among children with disabilities. This is more pronounced for children in developing countries due to factors such disproportionate access to technology, and lack of assistive devices and in-person support.

Overcoming the Challenges

An understanding of the barriers faced by PWDs is essential to ensure an inclusive recovery. Therefore, it is vital to consult PWDs and engage organisations that work with these groups –such as the Department of Social Services and the National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities (NSPD) – throughout the decision-making process of creating a disability-inclusive recovery plan. Information about the disease such as ways of contraction, symptoms, precautionary measures and procedure to follow in the event of contracting it should be made readily available in accessible formats. This includes presenting COVID-19 related information in sign language, captions, braille, graphics, etc.

It is important for PWDs to be prioritised during the vaccination process. If active efforts are not made to include these groups, they will be disproportionately excluded, and will be among the last to receive vaccinations. The healthcare systems should identify PWDs that meet the eligible vaccination criteria and provide them information on vaccination.

However, this requires proper procedures to be in place for these individuals to register for vaccinations, along with disability-accessible vaccination centres and regular monitoring of such persons upon completion of the vaccination process. The NSPD and other local organisations that work with these groups can be utilised to make the process more accessible and effective. Further, special vaccination drives solely targeting PWDs are an option to ensure effective and efficient vaccination.

In addition, social protection systems should be enhanced to support PWDs better, especially those adversely impacted by COVID-19. A commendable initiative by the government was the extension of its COVID-19 relief cash transfers beyond regular recipients (PWDs in low-income households) to those in the waiting list and groups specially identified by rural committees. However, to ensure long-term recovery and prevent low-income groups from slipping into poverty, these groups should be evaluated by the NSPD and absorbed into the existing social protection system.

Road to Recovery

COVID-19 has exposed many weaknesses in healthcare, education and social protection systems worldwide, such as high levels of inequalities and the lack of inclusivity. To ensure sustainable post-COVID recovery, resources should be strategically allocated to support all groups of people and inclusion must be made a priority to build a lasting recovery plan.

In the long-term attention should be directed at building more inclusive systems that are better equipped at serving all groups of people and are more resilient to shocks in the future. A starting point for Sri Lanka would be to increase disability-accessible infrastructure (in public buildings, public transport, restrooms etc.), provide better healthcare and rehabilitation facilities, actively engage PWDs in the workforce, reduce stigma surrounding disability, and increase engagement between PWDs and society at large.

Link to original blog: https://www.ips.lk/talkingeconomics/2021/08/16/leave-no-one-behind-building-a-disability-inclusive-covid-19-recovery-plan-for-sri-lanka/

Lakshila Wanigasinghe is a Research Assistant at IPS with research interests in poverty, social welfare, development, education, and health. She holds an MSc in Economics with a concentration in Development Economics and a BA in Economics with concentrations in International, Financial and Law and Economics from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), US. (Talk with Lakshila – lakshila@ips.lk).



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DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama pawning facility lends a helping hand to those with urgent cash requirements

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DFCC Bank has increased the advances of its “DFCC Ranwarama” Pawning Facility as a solution for families to meet their urgent cash requirements as many families are experiencing financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has had a significant impact on the Sri Lankan economy.

Through this scheme, all Sri Lankan citizens over 18 years of age with the contractual capacity to declare themselves as owners of the articles can now pawn gold or gold jewellery. DFCC Bank accepts jewellery made of 18 Karat -24 Karat gold, with the articles being assayed using the latest available equipment. Items of 24 Karate will hold an advanced value of LKR 82,000/-, while 22 Karat pieces will hold an advanced value of LKR 68,000/- at an interest rate of 0.75% per month. Those who engage in these transactions are provided a maximum of 12 months to settle the pawning advances at their convenience.

DFCC Bank’s Ranwarama Pawning Facility offers many other special features including the highest advance amount at competitive rates of interest, confidentiality and guaranteed security for the articles, flexible payment plans with redemption options when required and redemption without prior notification. All of these facilities are available with no hidden charges, offering customers the best service available in the market.

You may visit a DFCC Bank branch closest to you to transact or visit the Bank’s website at www.dfcc.lk for further information. Customers can also contact DFCC Bank’s 24-hour contact center on +94(11)2350000 for further inquiries.

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HSBC Sri Lanka recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank by Global Finance

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HSBC has been recognised as the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance at the World’s Best Consumer Digital Banks Awards in Asia-Pacific. While this is the bank’s fourth award win for this year, this also marks the 13th time that HSBC Sri Lanka has been named the Best Consumer Digital Bank, since 2006.

HSBC Sri Lanka is also the only market in Asia Pacific to win the prestigious award this year.

According to Global Finance, the global health crisis accelerated the need for digital and contact-free solutions by banks in helping create safe and efficient banking services for customers. HSBC Sri Lanka was quick to react in supporting customers in providing seamless digital bank offerings in an increasingly demanding environment, while ensuring customers have a secure banking service with a full spectrum of client-centric banking services.

Through its wealth of digital capabilities and offerings, HSBC allowed customers to adopt a mobile-first approach, and provide them with faster, easier and more secure banking services 24/7. The bank introduced a virtual on boarding capability for account opening, loans and credit cards supported by Adobe Live Sign, eKYC and virtual PINs to provide a seamless on boarding experience for customers. HSBC also offers credit card activation through SMS and an e2e virtual registration process for online banking, offering a virtual banking experience.

In Sri Lanka more than 90% of its personal customers now use digital channels including mobile banking, e-wallets, real-time cash deposit machines and other digital services.

Nadeesha Senaratne, Country Head of Wealth & Personal Banking said, “We are truly honoured to be named the Best Consumer Digital Bank in Sri Lanka for 2021 by Global Finance in recognition of our digital capabilities, and delivering important everyday services and features that customers need and expect. As a leading international bank, we are putting the power of our bank in every customer’s pocket, with easier and more secure digital banking. We want to take the hassle out of everyday banking, and enable customers to easily manage their money online, from opening a new account in a few clicks, to making real time payments and accessing credit.”

Senaratne added: “We’re also blending the power of technology with the expertise of our people and empowering our frontline teams with the latest data and insights tools, to be better-equipped to check customer satisfaction in the moment, to understand, and respond to their evolving needs and give customers excellent service.”

Winners were selected by a world-class panel of judges and entries were judged based on the strength of strategy for attracting and servicing digital customers, success in getting clients to use digital offerings, growth of digital customers, breadth of product offerings and evidence of tangible benefits gained from digital initiatives.

Earlier this year, HSBC Sri Lanka was also named International Bank of the Year by Asiamoney and Finance Asia respectively, and International Retail Bank of the Year by Asian Banking & Finance.

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BoardPAC appointed Strategic Partner of Commonwealth’s Business Network – CWEIC

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BoardPAC, the Sri Lanka-based multinational Board meeting automation solutions company, has been appointed a Strategic Partner of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), the organisation officially mandated by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to promote trade and investment between the 54 Commonwealth member countries.

This prestigious appointment will see CWEIC relying on BoardPAC’s award-winning solutions to conduct board and committee meetings with members and maintain relationships across the Commonwealth network at a time when the global pandemic’s complete disruption of business activity has resulted in a surge in the demand for efficient board meeting automation.

The Company said the partnership will also effectively promote the BoardPAC platform to new users and facilitate its expansion into new territories and focus markets. BoardPAC already has a global user base in excess of 50,000 and a presence in more than 40 countries.

Noting that BoardPAC’s latest partnership serves as yet another testament to the quality of its solutions, BoardPAC Co-Founder/CEO, Lakmini Wijesundera stated: “Our growth plan includes expanding our worldwide network, and our strategic alliance with CWEIC will strongly help us extend our presence into Commonwealth territories. The strategic cooperation between CWEIC and BoardPAC is especially relevant in light of the worldwide pandemic, and the emerging need for secure remote working and filling the void in virtual board meetings.”

CWEIC Chairman, Rt. Hon. Lord Jonathan Marland said: “We are looking forward to work closely with BoardPAC. The alliance will not only help CWEIC to conduct virtual board meetings securely and safely, but also align ourselves with all governance, risk and compliance as well as environmental, social, and governance frameworks.” Echoing this sentiment, CWEIC Deputy Chair, Sir Hugo Swire stated: “We are excited to partner with BoardPAC and extend modern digital governance and compliance solutions to organisations operating in the Commonwealth.”

Disclosing that BoardPAC’s excellent track record inspired confidence within the CWEIC to implement its solution on a global scale, CWEIC Chief Executive, Samantha Cohen CVO added: “We’re delighted that BoardPAC, one of the most renowned virtual board meeting automation providers in the world, joined our network of Strategic Partners. BoardPAC will add significant value to our board and committee meetings, allowing the CWEIC to conduct meetings with its members throughout the Commonwealth more effectively. The partnership also demonstrates the opportunities within the Commonwealth, and the confidence businesses have towards the Commonwealth and CWEIC.”

A commercial, not-for-profit membership organisation, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council’s network includes around 100 business and government Strategic Partners (members) including Standard Chartered, Zenith Bank, Trade & Investment Queensland and the Government of the Maldives from 30 countries and territories. Every two years, CWEIC hosts the Commonwealth Business Forum in association with the host country of The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

BoardPAC is an award winning, multinational, paperless board meeting automation solutions provider, recognised for driving simple, secure, sustainable and experiential communications for Board and Executive members. Leading corporates such as Petronas, Deloitte, EY, Mercedes Benz, Prudential, Hong Leong Group, Stock Exchange of Malaysia, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Bombay Stock Exchange, Bank Negara, Maybank, Power Grid Corporation of India, Colombo Stock Exchange, and Sri Lankan Airlines are just some of BoardPAC’s success stories, and the Company said the partnership with the CWEIC will pave the way to several more high-profile additions to this list.

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