BY FAYAZ AHMAD PAUL
A world wide pandemic 2019 was declared due to the Novel SARS-CoV-2 at the end of 2019, which resulted in more than 19 crore cases by July 17, 2021. The ongoing pandemic and associated isolation and protective measures are leading to drastic changes in the lives of the general population. In addition to the possibility of having Covid-19 and its health related complications, the general population is experiencing major consequences in their daily lives, such as high stress exposure, low mood, disturbed sleeping patterns and financial worry and depression.
Covid-19 has resulted in tremendous impact among the non-disabled population. Individuals living with disabilities, who represent 15% of the global population, commonly encounter challenges while carrying out their daily life activities, without the Covid-19 context, such as barriers to community mobility, difficulties accessing public transportation, reduced access to healthcare services and barriers to communication, compared to the general population, individuals with disabilities have a higher risk of depression, lower life satisfaction and increased loneliness.
People living with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by the Pandemic-2019 particularly vulnerable segment of the population encompasses a variety of conditions and impairments, those with disabilities have faced many barriers throughout the pandemic. For example, they may be at a potentially higher risk of contracting the virus due to underlying conditions, have difficulty engaging in preventative measures or experience disruptions to health services they normally rely on. As the pandemic progresses, it is critical for both individuals living with disabilities, and those who are their caretakers, and we need to take the necessary steps to protect their health and well-being.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, daily life and access to health care has worsened for people with disabilities and we all have heard the news about the higher death rate for those with developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities and aging populations who live in different centers like group homes, or nursing clinics. Most individuals with disabilities are facing in the midst of Pandemics-2019. Some individuals may not be able to wear a standard surgical or procedural mask due to a disability or medical conditions, face mask affects a person’s ability to breathe, exacerbates symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder, causes sensory overload, feelings of panic or extreme anxiety. No one is required to wear a face mask or covering in a situation that creates a health risk or is not safe.
Lack of access to Covid-19 testing and testing sites particularly for those who are housebound and or unable to travel independently, acquiring safe transportation to and from a testing site may be near impossible. Inaccessibility through tele-health tools for those who are blind or visually impaired, tele-health tools may not be compatible with certain programs such as screen readers; for those with cognitive delays, the tools may be difficult to navigate for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs and any other type of assistant devices should be disinfected regularly particularly when used outside the home. Additionally, clean high-touch surfaces, phones and other appliances, and make hand washing a priority. Individuals with disabilities should also ask caregivers to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer prior to touching or providing assistance.
People living with disabilities may experience health issues specific to their disability that need to be managed differently during the pandemic. Experienced personal care attendants to assist with activities of daily living may be more challenging during Pandemics-19. As such, it is important to have a backup plan in place. Identify a support system by creating a contact list of friends or family and local community who can provide support in case the individual or their support person becomes ill. In health care settings, these individuals can request for staff to wear clear window masks, so they are able to read lips and see facial gestures. Patients who are blind, low vision or visually impaired may request printed material in Braille, large font or electronically.
Patients with disabilities may need to access tele- health or tele-medicine to empower individuals with disabilities, and to ensure their optimal health and well-being, many aspects of society must become more accessible and inclusive. Adopt an inclusive, human-centered design this involves approaching a problem with the people the solution is intended for in mind and creating new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs. Develop training programs for health care professionals and these programs must be aligned with the specific care needs and rights of persons with disabilities. These training programs should also address societal stigma that creates additional barriers for people with mental health issues and psychosocial disabilities.
Fayaz Ahmad Paul is a Research scholar in Department of Psychiatry