I found it really chilling recently to see that a survey had found that many disabled people in Scotland were more worried about their mental health deteriorating than catching Covid-19.
I attended an event at the Festival of Politics last week to hear about the effect of the pandemic on people with disabilities. It has been brutal for many, who have found their support services curtailed or stopped altogether. This was an issue that came up a lot in responses to my survey of Livingston South residents.
If you have hearing loss, masks make it more difficult for you to understand what people are saying to you. A lack of available BSL interpreters even makes getting access to medical advice difficult. And I heard a particularly heartbreaking example of how a deaf resident in a care home had not been able to communicate with people for months after her tablet broke.
If you are deaf and blind, you need to touch the interpreter’s hands. The pandemic has meant that this group of people have been increasingly isolated and there has been no guidance to support them.
If you have sight loss, social distancing is difficult and guide dogs aren’t trained to stay two metres away from others so we need to make sure that we are aware and make sure we give people space when we are out and about.
Holding events online does not help many disabled people as most are not properly accessible. If you have learning difficulties, for example, you can’t always get access to the training, support and equipment that you need to even get online.
As well as being at higher risk of loneliness and isolation, they are at higher risk of feeling the economic impact. It will be more difficult to find or keep employment. In my day job, I see the hardship people go through in trying to access disability benefits. It is infuriating to see delays in processing applications and to see the DWP refuse to extend some fixed term awards despite the backlog.
Not for the first time, I feel frustrated that the Scottish Government has been so slow to use the powers they have had for years to the max.
Scottish Liberal Democrats want the Scottish Government to use its vast Scotland Cares volunteer database to tackle loneliness and isolation this Winter. By May 76,000 people had signed up for the scheme but few were contacted and given something to do. We think that they could be put into action to contact vulnerable people to check that they are ok and have a chat with them.
We are also committed to making sure that Councils are given sufficient resources to provide the services that our most vulnerable people depend on.
The many ways disabled people have been affected by the pandemic have shown that equalities legislation simply has not protected them when they were most in need.
We have to fix that. As we recover from the pandemic, we have to make sure that we create a world that removes the barriers that so many disabled people face in their daily lives.