Governments are enforcing lockdowns and other measures as the COVID-19 continues to infect the world’s population, noted Caroline Casey of the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization.
Many people feel excluded from living a “normal” life as they are quarantined in their own homes, further exacerbating mental health issues and feelings of isolation. But how about the elderly and people with disabilities? While social isolation is a culture shock for some, it is, unfortunately, the norm for the most vulnerable.
Statistics On Persons With Disabilities
Public health institute CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) noted that 61 million adults in the US live with a disability. 13.7% of those with a disability have a mobility disability with serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs and 10.8% of them have a cognition disability with serious difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions. 6.8 % have an independent living disability with difficulty doing errands alone while 5.9% are deaf or have serious difficulty hearing.
4.6% have a vision disability with blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses and 3.6% have a self-care disability with difficulty dressing or bathing. Adults living with disabilities were more likely to be obese (38.2% versus 26.2% of adults without a disability), smoke (28.2% versus 13.4%). Those with disabilities were more also more likely to have heart disease (11.5% versus 3.8%) and diabetes (16.3% versus 7.2%).
Two in five adults aged 65 years and above have a disability, along with one in four women and two in five non-Hispanic American/Indians/Alaska Natives. One in three adults with disabilities aged 18 to 44 years have an unmet health care need due to costs in the year prior and they also do not have a usual health care provider. Further, one in four adults aged 45 to 64 years did not have a routine check-up last year.
Discrimination and Violence Against Persons With Disabilities (2018)
Jesper Dammeyer and Madeleine Chapman of open-access publisher BMC assessed data on self-reported violence and discrimination from a Danish national survey involving 18,019 individuals. Of those, 4,519 reported a physical disability and 1,398 cited a mental disability.
3.2% of individuals without disabilities reported major physical violence in the last year versus those with physical disabilities (3.8%) and mental disabilities (6.7%). Those with mental disabilities were more likely to report being threatened physically (13.3%) unlike those with physical disabilities (8.8%) and those without disabilities (7.1%). Individuals with mental disabilities also reported being humiliated (27.5%) compared to those with physical disabilities (16.5%) and those without disabilities (11.5%).
People with mental disabilities were more likely to report violence done to others (6.2%) compared to those with physical disabilities (2.9%). 0.8% of women without disabilities reported major sexual violence compared to women with mental disabilities (5%) and physical disabilities (1.7%).
Those with ADHD and substance abuse reported being humiliated (40%), followed by people with autism (36.4%), personality disorders (31%), schizophrenia and psychosis (29.8%), stress (29.2%), and mood disorders (24.9%). People with autism were more likely to report discrimination in employment and education (8.7%) than those with schizophrenia and psychosis (6.4%), ADHD (5.9%), stress (4.8%), and eating disorders (4.2%).
People who have difficulty hearing and seeing reported being more discriminated in services (4.5%) than those with motor disabilities (2.6%) and skin conditions (2.3%). The findings suggested for greater awareness of discrimination and violence towards people with disabilities and its social impacts on education, service provision, and employment.
Most of Them Have Fewer Resources to Avoid Infection
People with disabilities, the elderly, and those with chronic health issues are more at risk of complications and death from the coronavirus than most people, explained Andrew Pulrang of business news Forbes. It’s clear that individuals know what to do to protect themselves from being infected; however, people with disabilities face difficulties in doing the simplest tasks such as handwashing.
In fact, some of them can’t move their hands as freely as others. Others can’t reach a sink or operate a soap dispenser alone. Further, individuals with disabilities are unable to entirely isolate themselves. They also need other people to stay close to them or to touch them.
In order for people with disabilities to have their needs met, they have to ask other individuals or their loved ones to “lessen their own protective isolation.” It is a tug-of-war between protecting oneself and taking care of someone with disabilities.
Linsay Lee, a World Health Organization Technical Officer, stated, “What worries me perhaps more than anything is just the existing barriers that people with disabilities face. I can speak for this myself, personally,” quoted UN News, a news website of the UN. Lee, who uses a wheelchair, said access to healthcare is already difficult for some people with disabilities, including those living in high-income locations.
Such barriers include discriminatory laws, stigma, and physical obstacles. Lee added that existing barriers can be exacerbated in crisis situations if governments and communities are not careful. However, these risks can be prevented if the whole community is willing to do its part.
The Need to Support People With Disabilities
As countries contain the spread of COVID-19, people with disabilities also deserve to be reassured that survival is a priority, according to a UN independent human rights expert. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, said in a statement, “People with disabilities feel they have been left behind.”
Devandas-Aguilar asserted that reasonable accommodation measures are critical to helping people with disabilities reduce contacts and the risk of contamination, which should also be applied to their loved ones and caregivers. People with disabilities should be allowed to work from the comfort of their home or be offered paid leave to ensure income security. Devandas-Aguilar said that additional financial aid is important to minimize the risk of people with disabilities and their families from falling “into greater vulnerability or poverty.”
Lee and Devandas-Aguilar stressed that authorities must provide accessible public health information must be accessible such as using sign language, text messages, captioning, and relay services. How about people with disabilities who are in institutions? The contamination risk is high as is “lack of oversight, aggravated by the use of emergency powers for health reasons.”
Restrictions imposed to safeguard public health should be narrowly tailored and non-intrusive, recommended Devandas-Aguilar. Limiting contact with their loved ones leaves individuals with disabilities vulnerable to abuse or neglect, she stressed.
Healthcare should be inclusive and accessible for the most vulnerable populations. People with disabilities have the right to work from home or be granted paid leave to ensure a steady flow of income. Governments should not forget to take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities.