4 Things to Know About Coronavirus and People Living with Disabilities


The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has everyone very worried, and hopefully, taking steps to control the outbreak. But one group faces additional risks and consequences, as well as anxieties: people living with disabilities.

Here are some points to keep in mind about how the coronavirus outbreak affects people living with a disability, and their carers:

  1. The people most often cited as being at serious risk are largely, people living with disabilities.

    While simply having a disability doesn’t by itself put someone at higher risk from coronavirus, many disabled people do have specific disabilities or chronic conditions that make the illness more dangerous for them.

    Unfortunately, any natural anxiety disabled people might have about the COVID-19 outbreak is likely made worse every time news reports go out of their way to reassure everyone by saying “only” elderly and chronically ill people are at serious risk!

    At the same time, the connection between people with pre-existing medical and disability conditions could become blurred and people with a disability could be unfairly stigmatized. People of Asian ancestry have already experienced discrimination because of underlying prejudice and people’s vague associations between COVID-19 and China. Everyone should be on guard against any fear-based impulse to confine people who have, for example, chronic coughs or breathing difficulties that are normal for them and are not by themselves evidence of exposure to COVID-19.

    Because of all these and other factors people with disabilities may be experiencing a higher level of anxiety about coronavirus. And anxiety poses risks of its own.

  2. It can be harder for people living with a disability to take steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus outbreak.

    For one thing, many people with disability people can’t isolate themselves as thoroughly as other people, because they need regular, hands-on help from other people to do every day self-care tasks. Also, getting in supplies of groceries can be difficult to do, when shopping of any kind is always extra taxing, and they rely on others for transportation. Even cleaning homes and washing hands frequently can be difficult, due to physical impairments, environmental barriers, or interrupted services.

    Some people with chronic health conditions even worry that they won’t be able to get the extra supplies of medications that are being recommended to the general public.

  3. COVID-19 coronavirus threatens independence.

    Some people living with a disability depend on regular help and support from others to maintain their independence. Outbreaks of communicable disease can disrupt these services. Carers may become sick themselves, or the risk of catching or spreading illness may require carers to stay home, interrupting services.

    It is also worth considering that especially during an outbreak, care facilities are now closed indefinitely.

  4. This outbreak has the potential to add new perspectives and urgency to several long-time disability issues, such as centralised care in facilities vs. decentralised home and community-based services.

    The relative health risks of centralised care and decentralised home care are being viewed now in new ways. Many disability activists have for years argued that the group homes and centres for people with disabilities is overrated. COVID-19 highlights there are health risks involved in hosting people with disabilities in group centres and other care facilities.

    The basic overall message is simple…If you live and work with a someone living with a disability, take the risks to seriously and be extra careful with your own precautions so you can remain healthy and able to help, just as you would do with any other member of the public during this time.

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