However, as a country we must recognise that for disabled people coronavirus will still result in huge challenges in their daily lives and the risks remain very real. 6 in 10 people who die of COVID-19 are disabled. This is an extraordinary and appalling inequity. I believe we need to do far more to understand why so many disabled people have lost their lives in the pandemic.
We have to ask what more could have been done to protect disabled people and why this situation arose when, more than any other group in our society, they were disadvantaged by the measures which were put in place to combat the virus. Care and support services were withdrawn or changed dramatically, restrictions were particularly long and severe for people who were advised to shield, and social distancing was challenging for people with sensory impairment. At all levels of government, changes have been introduced without sufficient assessment of their impacts on disabled people, and too often when assessments have been carried out they have been after the event.
Social distancing measures such as one-way systems in shops have been challenging or impossible for blind and partially sighted people to manage. Negotiating public transport has become even more difficult for people with sight loss. It is no wonder that many decided to remove themselves from their communities and stay at home, with the consequence that this difficult period was even more lonely and isolated for many disabled people.
As a country, we have to ask what we could have done to support and protect disabled people during the pandemic. I hope these are key aspects of any inquiry which takes place into how the pandemic was managed. Why weren’t impact assessments carried out on the effect of restrictions for disabled people? What more could we have done to raise awareness in our communities of the challenges which social distancing presented for blind and partially sighted people, as well as other disabled people, so if they struggled to cope they were met with kindness and not criticism?
As we slowly emerge from the pandemic life is changing again. Our towns and city centres are getting busier. As restaurants and bars open again tables and chairs are appearing on our streets so people can socialise outside and take advantage of the warmer weather. These advantages for the majority present further challenges for the minority, as blind and partially sighted people struggle to negotiate new impediments put in their way. However, yet again there appears to have been inadequate assessment made about how the new changes to restrictions will affect disabled people.
The vast majority of us understand why the restrictions around coronavirus were necessary. But while they disproportionately affected disabled people, when we look at the sad figures on coronavirus fatalities they show it is disabled people who were hardest hit. The time will soon come when we need to ask why this happened, and how we can ensure it won’t happen again.
Mark O'Donnell is Chief Executive of Sight Scotland