The past twenty months haven’t been easy on anyone but they have been particularly difficult for people living with a disability and their carers. That’ s the finding of a specially commissioned report by Louth DisAbility into the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on People with Disabilities in Co Louth.
he report, launched earlier this months, spells out the challenges faced by those living with a disability in Louth, who according to the 2016 Census make up 13.9% of the county’s population.
However, for many life during lockdown wasn’t that different than normal as their disability means that they face restrictions in their every day life.
While the pandemic did cause hardship and posed problems for people with disabilities and their carers, many of those interviewed reported that their life experiences beforehand had prepared them for living with restrictions. One of those interviewed told the researchers that having a disability was ‘living in lockdown’.
The report found that families and relationships were under pressure with some people suffering from ‘cabin fever’. People missed important family events such as birthdays, weddings and funerals.
Many felt lonely and felt extreme loneliness, depression and isolation as friends stopped calling. People missed company as day care centres and work places closed.
There were positives with families coming closer together, people using social media, Zoom and texting to keep in touch. Carers felt that it was easier to protect people with a disability as they were at home.
The report includes a number of case studies which illustrate the differing experiences of people with a disability and their carers.
One woman with a hearing impediment recounted how she she had been unable to visit her family for six months as they lived on the other side of the country. Her parents were unable to use ZOOM so she had to text them. When her mother was dying in hospital, she had to wear full PPE when visiting her. The hospital staff were unable to communicate with her as she couldn’t lip read because they were wearing masks and none of them had basic Irish sign language.
“Disability services were poor before COVID but collapsed completely during the pandemic”, the report states.
It highlights the severe effects which the cancellation of routine appointments and services had on those with disabilities and their families, who were under immense pressure to cope with the consequences of service withdrawal.
The respondents told how their physical and mental health had deteriorated.
“The collapse of the disability and community health services had a severe impact on people. The majority of people felt a simple phone-call to reach out to people and their families would have made a difference. People felt left out and ignored in the decision making processes,” the report says.
One carer outlined the impact of the restrictions on his adult son, who found it difficult to understand why family events had to be cancelled and missed going to the day centre he attends.
The negative impact of the constant media coverage of the pandemic was highlighted by a visually impaired woman who described how she became obsessed and stressed by listening to news reports.
On a more positive note, others reported enjoying simple pleasures like getting out in the fresh air, going for walks, visiting the seaside or forest parks and appreciating treats like coffee and ice-cream. However, they highlighted the need for public spaces to be accessible for people with disabilities, including those on wheelchairs.
People also reported issues regarding the roll-out of the vaccination programme, including the lack of clarity for those with underlying conditions and problems with accessibility in vaccination centres.
A small people said that the stigma of letting close contacts know that they had contracted COVID-19 meant they wouldn’t do so again.
In conclusion the report says: “ People with disabilities and their families need to be ‘at
the table’ when decisions regarding future services are being made.”
In commissioning the report, Louth DisAbility felt it was important that those carrying out the research should have personal experience, either as a person with a disability or a carer.
Working under consultant researcher Bernard McDonald, four volunteers interviewed 25 people from across the county about their experiences of the pandemic.