With shielding set to pause this Saturday, the UK’s disabled people are at risk of being excluded from society and worried about what’s to come, according to the charity Scope.
Recent research by the Charity found a staggering 87 per cent of disabled people surveyed are worried about others not respecting social distancing, and over half are concerned about the closing off of high streets and inaccessibility.
What’s more, 37 per cent are concerned about not being able to wear a face covering because of their health, 46 per cent said they did not receive clear communication from the government about what they should personally do to stay safe, and 71 per cent are concerned about the lack of availability of accessible public toilets.
One of the people concerned about a disabled life in a post-lockdown world is Gem Hubbard, 35, from Sussex, who has a T10 incomplete spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair. Gem regularly shares her experiences on her Instagram and YouTube channel WheelsNoHeels.
She said: “Getting out and about before coronavirus could often be a challenge, but accessibility has gone out the window in the new post-lockdown world.
“After months at home I’ve been trying to get out and about a bit more, but every single time I go out there’s a problem. It’s so infuriating and exhausting, it makes me not want to go out anymore at all.
“I needed a new toaster, but when I got to the shops I found all the Blue Badge bays had been cordoned off to create a queueing area, with no other alternative. My only option was to come home. Many disabled people cannot go out without being able to park in Blue Badge bays, they’re one of the most important things we need.
“I posted about it on Instagram and asked other people to share their experiences, and every day people are tagging me and sending me pictures of bays blocked off, and other accessibility issues.
“On another trip, I took my daughter to a shop and there was a hand sanitizer stall right in front of the doorway, meaning I couldn’t get past in my wheelchair. I was doing three-point turns to try and get past, and the staff were just watching me struggle.
“The worst experience was when I went to an electrical retailer. I had a urine infection, meaning I needed to use the toilet frequently. This can often happen to people with spinal cord injuries. After about 20 minutes of queuing (and another 20 to go) I was in so much discomfort, I couldn’t wait any longer, so I asked the manager if I could quickly go in and get what I needed so I could get home to go to the toilet. He completely refused. He said the other people queueing wouldn’t be happy if he let me skip the line. But how would they feel seeing a grown woman wet herself? Again I had no option but to come home.
“It feels like disabled people have been completely forgotten.”
Mark Hodgkinson, Chief Executive at disability equality charity Scope, said:
“Easing lockdown presents in some ways a unique opportunity to press the reset button on many practices in our society which exclude disabled people. But instead, what we’re seeing is that our post-lockdown world is excluding disabled people even more than before.
“Redesigning our communities with stringent safety measures to help make them more Covid-safe is welcome, but it should not be at the expense of the rights and independence of disabled people.
“We know that there are many disabled people who have been shielding for the last few months who are incredibly anxious about stepping outside again as shielding pauses. They not only need to contend with worries about their health, but also a multitude of new barriers in society.
“Disabled people have been routinely forgotten throughout this crisis, and that needs to stop now. There must be more clear and accessible communication from government and businesses about exemptions for disabled people. We also need far more public awareness and understanding about the challenges facing disabled people in the post-lockdown world.”
Scope has unveiled these findings as part of its We Won’t Be Forgotten campaign. Two weeks ago, Scope led a coalition of campaigners in an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for urgent action to prioritise the needs of disabled people, who have been amongst the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Almost two thirds of people who have died from coronavirus were disabled. The open letter has continued to gather momentum, with over 4,000 signatures including organisations such as Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mencap, Mind and RNIB and high-profile disability campaigners such as Alex Brooker, Ben Elton, Sophie Morgan, Samantha Renke and Lee Ridley.