New user-led research has highlighted how the coronavirus crisis has entrenched social isolation among many disabled people.
More than three-fifths (61 per cent) of the disabled people questioned by disAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (DCIS) said they felt socially isolated, while three-quarters (74 per cent) were not receiving any support from charities, the NHS or their local community.
Many were concerned about a lack of clarity over their responsibilities as an employer of personal assistants (PAs), while more than a third (35 per cent) said they had had problems obtaining the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed to keep themselves and their PAs safe.
DCIS heard from 83 disabled people between 17 and 24 April after asking how they had been affected by the pandemic.
The survey findings were summarised by partners in The Inclusivity Project, an initiative led by the University of Exeter and funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund.
The findings are included in the latest of a series of reports that have been submitted by disabled people’s organisations to the Commons women and equalities committee’s inquiry into the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on disabled people and other groups protected under the Equality Act.
One of those who took part in the Cornwall research said: “Personally I have not been supported by charities in my local community despite the fact of living alone.
“There are many like me that’s fallen through the cracks. We are really socially isolated due to our complex health conditions, but even more so now.”
Sharon Kilty, a wheelchair-user who also responded to the survey, said: “As usual I feel invisible when it comes to the government handling this situation.
“I don’t know what we have to do to be seen and treated as an equal part of society. We have to get on and manage things for ourselves as best we can.”
Many of those who took part – particularly those with high support needs and invisible impairments – told DCIS they believed disabled people had been forgotten during the crisis, in comparison with the NHS, key workers and older people.
Disabled people who were not living with family members said they felt a strong sense of isolation, depression and anxiety because of being cut off from family or from local activities and supportive organisations.
Many spoke about the lack of access to healthy, affordable food, even some of those who were on the list of those the government viewed as particularly vulnerable to the virus.
One of those questioned said: “I have been unable to get shopping in as I’m unable to get a delivery and can’t go out for it.
“I have no access to my support networks. I can’t have an appointment with my therapist. I’m struggling a lot more than usual.”
Another said: “Whilst self-isolation is nothing new when much of society is still inaccessible and ignorant of the needs of disabled people, in many ways disabled people feel more marginalised, vulnerable and discriminated against than at any time during the last 30 years.”
Among the demands of those questioned by DCIS were for care workers and disabled people to be tested regularly for COVID-19; for greater access to PPE; for more support from health professionals and GP surgeries; for access to emotional support for mental health issues; and for advice on how to cope if social care packages are discontinued.
Another respondent highlighted the level of anxiety caused to many disabled people by the coronavirus lockdown.
They told DCIS: “I’m worried that I’m not going to be able to get any shopping at all.
“I’m worried I’m going to end up hurting myself or someone else.”
Jane Johnson, chief executive of disAbility Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, said: “The lack of timely information and support, lack of COVID testing for care staff, and poor provision of inclusive information has caused considerable fear and confusion for many.
“Some people’s stories are truly heart-breaking; more can and should be done now to alleviate further suffering.”
Among the report’s recommendations for immediate action are for more accessible information about the crisis for those without internet access.
It also calls for the government to collaborate with disabled people and their organisations to produce and share a clear plan for how the needs and priorities of disabled people will be met as lockdown restrictions are eased.
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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