Risk Factors For People With Disabilities During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Ever since the existence of COVID-19, many lives are impacted on earth in some way or the other. It is truly a global pandemic of the modern era and everyone is forced to grapple with its effect on individuals and groups. The negative societal effects of the coronavirus are seen all over the world. In most cases, there were profound effects when seen via the lens of people with disabilities.

Disabled people living in impoverished regions are already dealing with bigger health conditions, societal marginalization, and exacerbated security threats that adversely impact every facet of such individual’s lives. In many cases, marginalization is available through misconceptions that disability is contagious and must be shunned. It is also the result of the broad assumption that disabled people need to be cared for and also kept in restrictive conditions for better protection.

Although disability inclusion efforts have begun to gain worldwide momentum lately in many countries where the ICRC’s Physical Rehabilitation Programme (PRP) operates, people with disabilities in such delicate contexts are at lower risk of being pushed further of their communities.

Reasons why are people with disabilities are at greater risk

When it’s about people with disabilities and COVID-19, statistics show that disabled people are at higher risk of dying from the virus than the general population. This has been reported by the UK government in November 2020 after they witnessed a higher death rate in disabled people compared to the general population.

The overall figure conceals higher disparities among various age groups. During the first lockdown, the death rate among people with disabilities was 30 times higher compared to people with no disabilities.

According to the government report, there are some possible reasons for this. It happens because people with disabilities cite certain intrinsic challenges like a higher risk of health conditions such as diabetes. It is more common in group accommodation or care homes where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing norms.

Another small study shows that risks are seen more commonly in people with moderate to profound disabilities or other health conditions such as mental illness, dementia, epilepsy, and Down syndrome.

Risk factors for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, routine life and health care access have become worse for disabled people. Some unique challenges faced by people with disabilities amid COVID-19 are:

Not able to wear masks because of a medical condition: Some people are not able to wear a procedural or surgical mask because of a medical condition. Certain examples of risky situations may include one’s inability to breathe with a face mask. It may cause extreme panic, feelings of extreme anxiety, and communication barriers due to hindered lip reading.

Having to follow rules of health care visitor policies that exclude caregivers or support persons: At the start of the pandemic, there was a policy inconsistency that enabled support people to accompany disabled people. But many caregivers denied it due to fear of the coronavirus.

Negative outcomes resulting from social distancing: Although the golden rule during the pandemic limits interaction with others, it can be difficult for people who need extra assistance or need a caregiver. People with sensory or physical disabilities may start having some or the other mental health condition due to this situation.

Inaccessibility via telehealth tools: For visually impaired or blind people, telehealth tools are not compatible with some programs like screen readers. Such tools may be hard to navigate for those who are hard of hearing or have cognitive delays.

Lack of proper access to COVID-19 testing sites: For people who are unable to travel themselves or are housebound, acquiring safe transportation to and from a testing site is not possible.

A helping hand

It is no secret that individuals with disabilities are worst hit by the pandemic. Programs that concentrate on enhancing the social-emotional and physical wellbeing of individuals with disabilities by inclusion in wellness and health care systems need additional thrust.

The explosive spread of the coronavirus signals the importance of improved disability care services, health care system transformation and redressal of structural inequities in health care. Prior to the pandemic, individuals with disabilities faced many problems in accessing adequate and affordable health care, COVID-19 has made it worse.

Local, state, and federal governments need to address the new challenges posed by the pandemic through swift and equitable actions and policies to deter the long-lasting impact of the virus.

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