“Disabled people have had, arguably, the worst experience of the pandemic – We need equality.”

Many more disabled people than non-disabled people died during the pandemic.

We have also had, arguably, the worst experience of the pandemic (including shielding) than any other group. Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) have produced reports on our experience – Greater Manchester Disabled People’s panel, Inclusion London -which paint a devasting picture of our lives during lockdown.

The pandemic has shone a light on the existing discrimination, segregation, and oppression of disabled people in this country. For example, there was no BSL interpretations at Government briefings and deaf people challenged this themselves (the new No 10 media briefing room still has no room for interpreters). Guidance given to the NHS in March 2020 stoked fears that disabled people would be refused life-saving treatment, although NICE retracted this. Some GPs began contacting their patients with existing conditions asking whether they wanted a Do Not Attempt Resuscitate (DNAR) order to be in their notes. DNARs were also placed on groups of vulnerable people, such as those with learning disabilities in care homes, in a carte blanche manner without any consultation with the patients or their families.

For most disabled people, the gains of anti-discrimination legislation (Disability Discrimination Act 1996) feel far removed from today’s situation of Covid-19. Apathy to the UN investigations into the Government’s treatment of us and the decade long ‘austerity’ cuts in benefits and services have resulted in deaths exemplified by the recent case of Errol Graham.

What is equality for disabled people?

Equality is about giving us the same choices, rights, and independence that non-disabled people enjoy. The choice of young disabled people to go out to gigs and not be put to bed at 9pm. The right to work to pay for and choose who is your support worker (instead of mum or a stranger providing intimate support). The choice to have consensual sex, to be a parent and to ensure disabled women can flee domestic violence. And, of course in the case of future pandemics, the right to live and receive treatment.

For us, disability equality starts and ends with the Social Model of Disability:

Disabled people are not disabled by their ‘medical’ conditions, but by society which puts barriers in our way. There is therefore no link between disability equality and medical conditions. The ONS figures outlined at the start of this blog in this context are simply shocking! The traditional medical model is rejected by disabled people.

What needs to be done?

  1. Disabled people need to be supported to educate themselves around the real causes of discrimination and to look beyond their own medical conditions to identify what stops them from reaching their potential.
  2. When service providers (social care/health in particular) are considering policies and/or procedures, disabled people need to be involved in legitimate and meaningful discussions (‘co-production’). Disabled people have coined the phrase ‘nothing about us without us’.
  3. Disabled people need to organise themselves into a loud and strong community voice. Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) need to be encouraged and facilitated. Positive Disability Action (PDA) is a new DPO on Teesside. It is currently developing its legal status, but has already begun to challenge on issues such as DNARs and Social Care Charging Policies.
  4. Please encourage any disabled people to get involved with Positive Disability Action (PDA). PDA needs disabled people as Trustees, volunteers, and members. Non-disabled allies are also welcome to join as members.