UKRI, through the GCRF and Newton Fund, supports national COVID-19 survey on Persons with Disabilities in South Africa


An international consortium of UK and SA researchers and disability service providers are pleased to announce that their proposed national online DATA FREE survey to understand the socio-economic, wellbeing and human rights-related experiences of people with disabilities in COVID-19 times in South Africa has been funded by UK Research and Innovation through the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Newton Fund. The study, part of the Wave 2 Agile Response call will run from the 27 October 2020 until the end of July 2021.


Dr Mary Wickenden, of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), in the United Kingdom is the study leader. Mary is an internationally recognised scholar and has worked on disability experiences, rights and policy in South, Southern, Eastern and West Africa, as well as Asia and the UK.

In South Africa, Dr Tim Hart of the Democratic, Capable and Ethical State (DCES) research division of the HSRC will coordinate the study along with Ms Nthabiseng Molongoana, of the National Council of and for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD). Both Tim and Nthabi have years of research experience and are persons with disabilities. Several other research team members are persons with disability of all races and gender, ensuring that the research is inclusive. The study has enabled the employment of another two persons with disabilities to specifically assist in this research. The consortium is balanced to ensure rigorous and robust research that recognises and reports on the voices of all persons with disabilities who volunteer to participate in the study.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed its toll on global and South African citizens during 2020. The resulting change in people’s lives has been profound. Within South Africa, as elsewhere, a lot of information has been gathered about how South Africans are experiencing, reacting and adapting to the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown since 27 March this year. Unfortunately, little of this information portrays the circumstances of persons with disabilities from a personal experiential perspective. Many surveys are answered by service providers and professionals in the field of disability and not by persons with disabilities. Most studies have not attempted national coverage. However, it is important to understand the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic and particularly the lockdown on persons with disabilities and their experiences and perceptions about this pandemic, across the country and under different socioeconomic circumstances.

These experiences and perceptions may well differ from persons who do not have disabilities and also amongst those persons with disabilities. Therefore, these must be captured and reported directly to various stakeholders (government, private sector and disability civil society support organisations) and in the press as well as through other popular, social and scientific media. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that persons with disabilities are not overlooked generally in South African society and to ensure that future occurrences of national disasters and mitigation legislation serve to protect their constitutional and human rights.

This funding, administered by UKRI, allows us to ensure that people in a variety of situations are not overlooked during this time of uncertainty and enables us to conduct national research to investigate and understand the experiences and perceptions of a wide range of persons with diverse disabilities. We are aiming for a voluntary sample upwards of 4000 respondents and thus we encourage as many persons with disabilities to participate in the research. Parents of children with disabilities may also participate.

The team has developed a digital survey tool to cover various impairments and disabling circumstances. This is designed to ask about the specific challenges and experiences people may have had during the pandemic and the lockdown and ideas about the future. The research team will use ICTs such as feature phones, smartphones, tablets and computers to engage with persons with disabilities to complete the DATA FREE online survey, to avoid the risk of contact during the coronavirus period and to adhere to lockdown regulations.

The process is voluntary and confidential, and respondents will not be identified. Anybody unable to complete the questionnaire themselves can be assisted by a family member or carer. Similarly, a parent/guardian/carer can respond on behalf of a child under 18 or anybody else who may be unable to respond themself.

The first research team inception meeting was held on the 27th of October 2020. Since then, a survey instrument has been compiled and research ethics clearance sought and approved by the HSRC Research Ethics Committee. It is proposed that the online DATA FREE survey will go live in mid-January and a web link to the survey will be distributed via various media. Acknowledging the diversity of persons with disabilities in South Africa we have ensured that the survey is DATA FREE and that no data costs will be borne by the voluntary respondents who may have to use mobile data or cellular phones.

Although this study is independently funded, the research team will be providing feedback at different stages to all stakeholders, including having at least two webinars during this 9-month study to share our findings with different audiences. Online facilities will be provided to accommodate persons with disabilities, including the provision of real-time captioning and SA sign-language interpreters.

Further information will be made available through disability support organisations, our social media, websites and the press. For more information on the UKRI support for this project please go to the UKRI news website.

For further information and updates, Tim Hart can be contacted at, Nthabiseng Molongoana at and Mary Wickenden at