Protecting Yourself From Coronavirus Is Proving Harder For Disabled People Like Me

Disabled people are used to challenges, but from stockpiling to risking our health on public transport, coronavirus is testing every element of our lives, writes Chloe Tear.
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Getty Images

It feels like every headline you read now is about coronavirus. With the virus causing concern and costing lives worldwide, it isn’t surprising. But it’s important that we talk about what that concern looks like if you’re disabled.

We already know those with pre-existing conditions, like me, are more at risk of serious consequences. In my work as a disabled advocate, I have seen the sheer fear this can cause – many people I know are immunosuppressant, and can easily be hospitalised by the common cold, let alone covid-19.

For us, the relaxed attitudes from a minority of non-disabled people can be extremely hurtful. Hearing people being complacent about coronavirus is, of course, their own choice. But comments like “I’m fine, it wouldn’t kill me anyway” show a disregard for disabled people and the elderly. Yes, you may only experience mild symptoms, but you must not be complacent about the risk of passing the virus on to others who might not have the ability to fight it off as well as you.

“Some disabled people rely on hand sanitiser to ensure their hands are clean – yet many people seem to be hoarding for a post-apocalyptic world where the only way to be safe is using hand sanitiser...”

That’s why disabled people like me are having to take extreme measures to protect ourselves, and indeed those who care for us. We are used to challenges, of course – but coronavirus just seems to be testing every element of our lives. Here’s how.

I, like many disabled people, rely on assistance to get around – which means every time I travel I put myself in close proximity to others who could have supported a whole host of people that day. What happens if you rely on a carer and they get ill? You’re left with no support.

What about stockpiling? Due to the inaccessibility of disabled toilets, some disabled people rely on hand sanitiser to ensure their hands are clean – yet many people seem to be hoarding for a post-apocalyptic world where the only way to be safe is using hand sanitiser. There are people with feeding tubes who need to use antibacterial wipes to sterilise things, too. And what about wheelchair users? They could spend all day pushing their wheelchair, touching the wheel rims that have been in contact with the floor.

Yet we now seem to be running the risk of these products being unavailable to those who need it the most. Everyone deserves the right to be safe, but please be mindful that five litres of hand sanitiser will often do the same job as soap and warm water.

What happens if we get ill and need to self-isolate? Well, disabled people risk being forced into a catch-22 where we need to isolate to protect our compromised immune systems, but where the detrimental effects of self-isolating is far greater too. Self-isolation for many of us would mean losing access to any help with daily tasks and personal care, and even the ability to pick up vital medications. Even something as simple as preparing food or getting a drink could be a challenge.

The government’s reaction to the virus has promoted sick pay from day one and the option for homeworking where possible. This is great, but sickness doesn’t stop there. For disabled people this can be the daily reality of having an often fluctuating condition. Scope and Mind have recently been campaigning for sick pay reform, and they want it to be more flexible, and paid at a fair rate from day one, rather than day four of someone being ill. If this change was made permanent, it would benefit disabled people – as well as anyone who might ever have to go off sick.

“Self-isolation for many of us would mean losing access to any help with daily tasks and personal care, and even the ability to pick up vital medications.”

I understand this is a temporary situation and is because of a health crisis, but why aren’t these options readily available for disabled people? We find ourselves struggling to find work and are faced with a fight for reasonable adjustments to be implemented. For myself, being at work and being able to contribute gives me a feeling of equality. However, I work from home and this is the only way I could physically hold down a full-time role. The seemingly simple task of commuting would cause fatigue and pain which in turn would make the quality of my work poorer, as well as needing days off to recover. These jobs are far and few between, despite being handed out like hot cakes during the covid-19 outbreak.

Homeworking might not be the easiest option, but it’s been shown to be possible. For the sanity of disabled people, I hope this crisis opens the eyes of employers and means reasonable adjustments are no longer a battle. To revert back to old ways, both with sick pay and flexible working, sends the message that the health and wellbeing of disabled people just isn’t as important.

Please take precautions to prevent yourself and those around you from getting ill. The consequences of not doing so could significantly harm others. All of us deserve to be protected where possible.

Chloe Tear is a disability blogger, freelance writer, and advocate. Follow her on @chloeltear and chloetear.co.uk.

Scope’s online community is a supportive space for disabled people, parents and carers to get disability advice and information, and talk to people with similar experiences. Mind also have a coronavirus mental health support page.

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