OPINION
25/09/2020 06:00 BST | Updated 25/09/2020 09:51 BST

Lockdown Never Ended For Disabled People

We’re at a crucial point in the pandemic’s progress, and disabled people have never been in more danger of being erased and forgotten entirely, writes Karl Knights.

It’s day 200 of lockdown and I log in to Instagram. I scroll and see pictures of friends’ lives, their holidays to Luxembourg, Tenerife or Vietnam. I see pictures of people enjoying a meal in the sunshine.

I want to be with them, living the lives they’re leading more than I thought it possible to want anything. But as a disabled person with cerebral palsy and asthmatic lungs, I’m at a high-risk for Covid-19.

Since late February, I’ve been shielding, becoming so intimate with the walls of my bedroom that I could forensically recite all the objects in the room with my eyes closed.

While everyone else was being encouraged to go about their lives again, to “eat out to help out” and return to the office or the classroom, disabled people like me stayed put.

The risk to our lives had not evaporated. We knew that it would be a long time before we could enjoy the pleasures of fresh air and the feeling of sunlight on our skin again. 

Many of my non-disabled peers are distraught at the news of new lockdown measures being introduced. The fact that these measures could be in place for six months mortifies them. I want to reply that disabled people like me never left lockdown. I want to say that we’ve been inside for far longer than six months, but I hold my tongue.

Before the pandemic, there was always a gap between the experiences of disabled people and non-disabled people. Before, it was as though each party stood on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon, trying to shout over to each other. But now? It feels like we’ve slipped into alternate universes entirely. 

The pandemic has intensified many already existing inequalities, and many of disabled people’s worst fears have come to pass.

An ever-present fear that many disabled people like me have is that we’ll be denied medical care in an emergency, simply because of the way our bodies and minds are seen by doctors and government officials.

Last month, a report found that one in ten care homes had been ordered by the NHS to impose blanket DNR orders on all care home residents, without their consultation or consent.

Here was the grim evidence that disabled people’s fears are not simply a paranoid fantasy, but a lived, horrifying, and justified fear.

The fact that disabled people are seen as less than has never been clearer. Even Boris Johnson’s direct address to the nation, announcing the implementation of new lockdown measures, lacked a BSL interpreter. 

From the beginning of the pandemic, disabled people have suffered from mixed and muddy messaging from the government. If they were on the government list of vulnerable people to begin with, many disabled people struggled to get PPE for themselves and their carers.

Shielding was paused in August, as the government announced that it was safe for the vulnerable to return to the workplace. Just over a month later, coronavirus cases have unsurprisingly soared.

Over and over again, in addresses to the nation, in speeches to parliament, disabled people are not mentioned, despite ONS statistics showing that two thirds of people who have died from Covid-19 were disabled.

Many of those that have survived the virus have become disabled as a result of their infection.

Before the pandemic, a disabled person was more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled peers. A poll by Scope found that a quarter of people surveyed feared losing their job due to the pandemic.

Each day, disabled people are being asked to risk their lives. If working from home is not possible, we’re being encouraged to hop on the bus, the tube or the tram, and put our lives at risk in order to work.

Don’t let the impact this pandemic has had on disabled people be forgotten. Don’t forget about us.

I receive a Google Alert for the word “disabled”. Every day, new stories of the ways disabled people have been ignored and let down emerge.

To be disabled in this pandemic feels like being trapped in a Stephen King novel, forever waiting to see what the next line of narration has in store for us.

We’re at a crucial point in the pandemic’s progress, and disabled people have never been in more danger of being erased and forgotten entirely. 

Now more than ever, disabled people need not only allies but co-conspirators. People like me can’t take to the streets and protest the government’s appalling handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. We cannot be there to challenge when we aren’t mentioned again in Parliament.

I’m roughly more than eleven times more likely to die from Covid-19 than my peers. I’ve told my friends that if I do die from the virus, they’re to dump my body at the doorstep of parliament.

I’m doing my best to keep myself healthy, by continuing to shield.

To my peers, I’d say, listen to disabled people. Pay attention to our concerns and, with our permission, advocate for us.

For the thousands of people like me all over the country, lockdown never ended.

Check in on the disabled people in your life, text the carers that you know. Don’t let the impact this pandemic has had on disabled people be forgotten.

Don’t forget about us. 

Karl Knights is a freelance journalist.