As part of VONNE's work on equity, diversity and inclusion, we've been speaking to a number of individuals and organisations about making the VCSE sector, and society at large, more inclusive and accessible to all. As part of that, this guest blog post, by academic resaercher and disabled rights advocate Lucy Reynolds, who is in the process of organising the inaugural We Are All Disabled conference, which will take place in Newcastle upon Tyne this October, examines the shocking impact of Covid-19 on members of the disabled community.
I started to write on my blog over a year ago during the first national lockdown to explore perceptions of disability in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and the strange and unprecedented times we're living through together. My hope was to create awareness and empathy between the disabled and non-disabled community, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response I’ve received to my work to challenge and change perceptions of disability. I’ve also been heartened by some of the positive changes that Covid and lockdown have helped bring about.
However, it's far from being all good news; in fact, a report by national charity Scope has revealed that disabled people have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Tragically, according to the Official of National Statistics, three in five people that died from Covid-19 were disabled, and since the beginning of the pandemic, 35 per cent of disabled people said they're financially worse off, and a quarter said they feel forgotten about by the government.
A report by Hullabaloo for the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland captured the lived daily experiences of disabled people in the North East of England between March and May 2020. It found that 22,500 of disabled people of all ages died due to Covid compared with 15,500 of non-disabled people. The report also highlighted that problems encountered by disabled people included a reduction in external support, such as personal assistance at home, difficulty accessing basic needs, such as priority shopping and home delivery, and a negative impact on physical and mental health.
It's not all political
One finding I thought particularly interesting was the impact of social barriers, such as micro-aggressions, which can undermine a disabled person’s psycho-emotional wellbeing and prevent them from participating fully in society by making it more likely they'll stay at home.
Micro-aggressions happen when disabled people are out in public and are subjected to numerous small insults and jokey comments which they then internalise. For example, sometimes when I'm out and about, people may think they're being funny when they remark, “do you have a licence for that?”, meaning my wheelchair, or “have you been drinking?” if I bump into something by mistake. I do try to brush off these so-called ‘harmless’ comments, but they can make me feel embarrassed and inadequate.
As the report states: “On their own, these may go unnoticed, but as a collective, they become an expectation, a normal part of everyday life for disabled people”, and this can lead to more extreme behaviour. Particularly worrying is that disability hate crime has actually increased during the pandemic. A joint investigation by Leonard Cheshire and United Response shows a 12 per cent increase in reports overall, and a staggering 46 per cent rise in online incidents in 2019-20 compared to the previous year.
These statistics and the difficult and sometimes horrifying experiences of disabled people highlight even more the importance of exploring and challenging perceptions of disability to bring about positive and lasting change.
In my doctoral research, I found perceptions of disability and disabled people are influenced by our lived experience of disability. If we can challenge the perceptions of disability by giving the disabled community a safe space to have their voices heard, then we'll encourage conversations to open, empathetic relationships with others to form, and we'll begin to see a shift away from the binary distinctions of disabled and non-disabled.
This is one of the main aims of the We Are All Disabled conference, which will be run in partnership with Disability North, Project North East and Virgin Money. The conference will be held on October 7th, 2021 and further information will be available soon. Register your interest by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post was originally published on Lucy's website at wearealldisabled.org and has been reproduced here with our thanks.
Hullabaloo (n.d): Life in the time of Covid | The experience of disabled people in the North East [online]. Available from communityfoundation.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Life-in-the-time-of-Covid.pdf.
Scope (2021): Disabled people and coronavirus: We won’t be forgotten [online]. Available from scope.org.uk/campaigns/disabled-people-and-coronavirus.
Leonard Cheshire and United Response (2020): Reports of violent disability hate crime continue to rise as number of police charges fall again - leonardcheshire.org/about-us/our-news/press-releases/reports-violent-disability-hate-crime-continue-rise-number-police.