New research into COVID’s impact on people with learning disabilities

December 3, 2020

New research has been published from not-for-profit support provider, Dimensions, revealing the extent of isolation experienced by people with learning disabilities and autism due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The research launches today on International Day of People with Disabilities. Between September and November 2020, Dimensions conducted an online survey including 125 responses from people with learning disabilities and autism.

People with disabilities and autism unite to call for more understanding, representation, and opportunities across society, during and after the pandemic.

The research uncovers a collective sense of exclusion. Some of the key findings were:

  • 93% of people with learning disabilities or autism feel more isolated from society due to the pandemic.
  • 76% have been made to feel like they do not matter, compared to other people.
  • 75% worry that after the pandemic, they won’t get the same opportunities they had before.
  • 97% feel government should do more to address their specific needs.
  • 97% say it’s important that more people understand how coronavirus has affected people with learning disabilities and autism.

Encouragingly, the hardships faced during this year have inspired people with learning disabilities to see a more positive future. Seeing this year as a catalyst for change, 67% are hopeful that more reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities and autism will be considered in the future, and 57% have been inspired to get more involved in politics and decision making.

The research has been published alongside the Dimensions Coronavirus Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List, launched in association with Learning Disability England and The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG). The List is a special edition of the UK’s first national list recognising people with learning disabilities and autism who are challenging stereotypes and entrenched social prejudices.

This year’s List celebrates those who have made special efforts to make communities better for themselves and others during the pandemic – tackling entrenched social biases by helping others and overcoming challenges of their own.

Sarah Walters, Campaigns Manager at Dimensions said, ‘Our research highlights just how isolating the pandemic has been for people with learning disabilities and autism, with many worried that in the future, they won’t have the same opportunities they had before. Yet, many remain hopeful our society will evolve to be more inclusive. We cannot let them down.

‘COVID-19 can’t be an excuse to sit back and do nothing. Our research should be a wake-up call – the pandemic needs to be a catalyst for change for us to do more to listen to and understand the lives of people with learning disabilities and autism.

‘We are so proud of, and inspired, by this year’s Leaders. Now, more than ever, we must stand with them to help tackle the inequalities they face every day.’

Dimensions’ research findings are published in the same week Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) calls on Government to ensure disabled people are not left behind in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

VODG is calling on the Government for:

  • Evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people, and the workforce supporting them, to be brought into scope as a matter of urgency.
  • The roll out of the vaccination programme must work with disability services, and the voluntary sector, to ensure it reaches disabled people using a wide range of support services. It is important to recognise that disabled people use other services beyond older people’s care homes.
  • An implementation policy that ensures reasonable adjustments are made to vaccine delivery, and for accessible information to be readily available to disabled people, their families and carers.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of VODG said, ‘We are concerned that disabled people who use social care will continue to be overlooked. Throughout this pandemic the government has pursued a care homes first approach in the roll out of PPE, testing and now the vaccination programme. It has used Care Quality Commission categories for care home registration to implement its response.

‘Yet, this approach has meant that people who live in their own homes, and other care settings, such as supported living, have been omitted from the government’s policy response and organisations such as ours have had to continually call on government to strike a balance to ensure that disabled people’s services are put on an equal footing.

‘Disabled people experienced significant health inequalities both prior to and during the pandemic. Deaths from COVID-19 amongst people with a learning disability were up to six times the rate seen in the general population.

‘We strongly urge government to commit to an inclusive and equitable approach as it develops its COVID-19 vaccination policy.’

VODG and others recently wrote to JCVI outlining their concerns about the prioritisation of people with learning disabilities.

For more information about Dimensions and the COVID leaders list, visit the Dimensions website.

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