3rd December 2020

How Covid-19 has impacted people living with disabilities

As we mark International Day of People with Disabilities, we look at just some of the ways the pandemic has affected the lives of a section of society who, even at the best of times, are often left feeling overlooked.

Those amongst us living with a disability have perhaps felt the impact of COVID-19 on their lives even more strongly. 

The pandemic has only gone to compound that sense of being forgotten for some of the one in five of us who live with some form of disability.

Just think for a moment about the simple things we’ve been asked to do to prevent the virus spreading and protect ourselves, like wearing a mask, washing our hands and keeping socially distant.

For some people, basic public health information like this is simply out of reach because it is not being provided in suitable formats, like Easy Read; whilst for others the inaccessibility lies in the way washing facilities are still placed out of reach or in places they can’t get to.

What about those who rely on their sense of touch to gather information on the world around them? Or those who can’t socially distance because they rely on the support of carers? Not forgetting, of course, the impact that someone putting on a mask has when you depend on lip reading.

And with everything going virtual and more services being provided over the phone and online, what about those whose hearing is impaired?

All this, before you even start thinking about what the increased pressures on the NHS and its supply chain has meant for those who rely more on its services. 

In fact, according to a recent study, more than 60% of the people with a disability surveyed said they had experienced problems getting food, medicine and other things they needed during the pandemic and felt that supermarkets and shops had not made the right reasonable adjustments.

Hardly surprising then that more than 35% of those polled also said they have been feeling more distressed since Covid-19 became part of all our lives.

Truth be told, as you start exploring the kinds of barriers faced by people with disabilities, it isn’t just the problems that Covid-19 has highlighted, but wider issues of accessibility and understanding amongst the general population, and the structural inequalities built into our society.

In the working environment

So, what are some of the basic day-to-day challenges faced in the world of work?

Package Engineer, Jack Arnold, is part of our team on the Battersea Phase 3a project in London and chairs our Ability Affinity Network.

Profoundly deaf since birth, Jack says work issues affecting those with impaired hearing like his include the limitations around captioning on technologies like Skype and Teams, something which can be hugely frustrating.

The main issue with captions is that it is an AI system, so it does not pick up as much as if a person were providing them. If the quality of sound is affected on a call or if someone’s accent is challenging, the quality of the captions decreases accordingly. Likewise, in terms of internet connections and sound quality on calls, I need a perfect connection in order to have a stress-free discussion. And when I’m chairing a meeting, I have to be in a quiet space otherwise the background noise is too distracting.

Jack Arnold Package Engineer

Jack uses a badge on site to show he uses lipreading and has found people to be generally helpful once they realise.

He also says there has been a gradual increase in public services starting to provide staff with clear vision masks to help with lipreading, something he also welcomes.

However, there is one area thing in particular that really grates.

“There has been an increase in media awareness around difficulties facing the deaf, although the biggest issue with this is that the media do not actually ask the deaf community for their views. Instead, they tend to ask famous people who either have a relative with deafness, or work with someone who is deaf.”

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