Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have made “significant” changes to the way they operate because of the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found.
Nearly all the English DPOs that took part in the survey, carried out by disAbility Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, said they were using their offices differently now compared with before the pandemic.
The survey was part of the National Lottery-funded Disabled People’s Organisations Sharing Experiences During Covid 19 project.
A previous report produced as part of the project found earlier this year that DPOs across the UK were “constantly threatened” by a lack of core funding, despite the “crucial” services they provide.
Now the new survey has shown how many of the same DPOs have had to make major changes to how they are run, so they can protect both staff and service-users from the risk of infection from Covid.
Nearly 30 DPOs took part in the survey and provided detailed information about how they had changed.
Before the pandemic, just two of them said they operated under a “hybrid” model, with some staff working from home and others using office space rented or owned by the DPO. But this has now risen to 13 of the DPOs using a hybrid model.
The number of DPOs operating from a building solely rented by that organisation has fallen from 10 before the pandemic to just four now.
The survey also revealed that nearly all the DPOs were using their office space differently now, compared with pre-pandemic.
Six said they were now operating with social distancing and more space.
One DPO said: “We are renting larger premises for meetings and groups which results in higher costs but alleviates anxiety from members around not having enough space.”
Another spoke of creating more space by moving a wall in the office and stopping drop-in sessions.
Only one DPO said it had implemented no changes post-pandemic.
Of precautions being taken in their offices to guard against the virus, 19 have hand sanitising, 13 have introduced social distancing, and seven ask staff to wear face masks when moving around the office, with seven DPOs also mentioning the use of screens on desks to further protect staff and visitors.
Only two weeks ago, another DPO, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), delivered a stark warning about the continuing seriousness of the Covid pandemic, and its impact on disabled people and DPOs.
Andrew Clark, chair of BuDS, told an online conference organised by disAbility Cornwall, that disabled people should ignore those who downplayed the risks posed by the latest Covid mutations.
He said BuDS had adopted a “Covid Careful” strategy, taking scientifically-proven precautions that allow a “Covid-safe” office, with equipment to clean the air of the virus, while all its staff and volunteers have to wear FFP2 masks in risky situations.
Dr Theo Blackmore, who conducted the new research for disAbility Cornwall, said: “I feel this is a very important piece of research at this time.
“DPOs work incredibly hard, for very little reward, and often feel very isolated and alone in what they are doing.
“This research shows that – once again – these organisations are making good decisions to ensure that disabled people will continue to receive the services they need in safe and Covid-secure ways.
“Although we can see everywhere the Covid restrictions being relaxed – in shops, supermarkets, and other public spaces – many disabled people still feel very uncertain about the new strains that are very prevalent right now.
“Knowing that we can turn to DPOs for help, advice and information, and that these organisations are still following Covid guidance, is very reassuring.”
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