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Living with disabilities: The dangers of Coronavirus, panic buying and reduced access to care

Coronavirus has quickly become a global concern, disrupting businesses, families and the day-to-day life for millions of people.

It’s especially concerning for those with pre-existing conditions, who are more at risk of developing more serious symptoms if they contract the virus. But there are many other factors that come with the Covid-19 pandemic which make life far more challenging for those with disabilities.

From stockpiling to the impact of self-isolation and losing access to essential care, here’s how the Coronavirus is affecting disabled people – and why reassurances that “only old and sick people” are at risk only serves as another example of unhelpful ableist language.

The consequences of stockpiling

Stockpiling can lead to consistent shortages in products as retailers try to catch up to demand.

MPs, charities and those who work with vulnerable people have been appealing to the UK government to crack down on stockpiling – an issue that has left many disabled people, essential workers, and NHS staff on the frontline, without food and supplies.

Many disabled people, who can’t travel to the supermarkets or even their local shops, rely on online shopping for their groceries, toiletries and other goods – but the demand for delivery slots has spiked due to self-isolation and advice to stay home as often as possible.

Supermarkets are trying to keep up with the higher level of demand for consumers. Sainsbury’s has heeded the advice of their customers and has introduced priority delivery slots for “disabled customers and those over 70” while many more retailers have adopted new restrictions on certain products.

Access to essential in-home care

The UK government is implementing several emergency measures to tackle the spread of the virus, some of which have been poorly received. Clauses in a recent bill are reported to temporarily suspend the existing duties that require councils to “assess and meet the care needs of elderly or disabled people” unless they are required to do so by the European Convention on Human Rights.

While this bill has reportedly been developed to help ensure councils can better “prioritise care for those they consider most at risk”, it could leave many vulnerable people without the essential support they need.

Quarantine and mental health

Self-isolation (and the lockdown) also cuts off a lifeline for many who rely on friends and family for support, helping with grocery shopping or providing beneficial social interaction to keep loneliness at bay. Thankfully, we’re seeing new volunteer support groups popping up every day, with groups like NHS Volunteer Responders mobilising the nation and delivering vital services to local communities and NHS services.

COVID-19 and ableist language

While it may reassure many to know that the likelihood of developing more severe symptoms is reserved mostly for those with pre-existing conditions, it’s far from comforting for that minority to be reminded of their vulnerability every time they switch on the news.

But this widespread message also has dangerous ramifications. Re-enforcing the message that most people are relatively safe from the virus and will only experience mild flu-like symptoms has given people the false idea that they can continue about their business as usual. Doing so would increase the chances of the virus ultimately reaching someone who is more at risk of complications.

This complacency is often the result of ignorance – not understanding just how contagious or elusive the novel Coronavirus is – but it can also serve as a prime example of the harmful and ableist “us and them” attitude that is rife across our nation. The detached nature of able, healthy people is no more apparent than when Professor June Andrews, a leading former nurse, said that “a pandemic would be quite useful” for taking people “out of the system” when speaking at a Scottish Parliament audit committee.

How can I help?

Don’t panic buy

It can be easy to fall into this trap when you’re watching as the shelves of pasta and rice disappear, but the more of us who give in to that fear, the longer we will suffer food shortages. The only way to ensure that everyone, including our essential workers on long shifts or disabled people struggling to get to the shops, has access to food and supplies is to live within our usual means.

Help your vulnerable neighbours

Social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing. A quick phone call can be the difference between a good day and a bad day for someone suffering from loneliness in self-isolation. There are volunteer schemes being set up in communities across the nation, to help the most vulnerable in society while protecting them from exposure.

Challenge ableist language

It’s never nice to be reminded of your vulnerabilities, so when you hear divisive or dismissive language about disabled people and Covid-19, challenge it! Remind people of their responsibility to keep high risk people safe from the virus by sticking to the social distancing rules – stay home, stay safe! For more information on how to challenge ableist language, check out our blog on recognising and combating ableism at work.

If you’re thinking of investing in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle or vehicle adaptation for your car, get in touch with our friendly team to find out how we can help.

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