How can we continue to best accommodate those with physical disabilities and mobility challenges during COVID-19?
We have all needed to adapt our daily routines and abide by restrictions to protect ourselves. We are still trying to wrap our heads around the consequences of these changes.
I am a wheelchair user. Often I require help from those around me. My mind now thinks of how the COVID-19 restrictions are impacting those with physical disabilities.
COVID-19 restrictions are further challenging those with mobility impairments for the following reasons:
- The disabled population typically find themselves in the subset of the population most at risk of severe infections (immunocompromised, >60 years old, impaired lung function, etc.), so they may be required to self isolate more than the rest of us.
- People with physical disabilities are subject to additional challenges around housing, access, transportation, funding, etc. which could compound the impact of additional restrictions.
- Those with physical disabilities may depend on the use of mobility equipment which needs to be serviced and maintained. But those who provide the maintenance are also practicing social distancing. Similarly, some disabilities require help from personal support workers coming into the place of residence. This reduces the control that these people have over their personal prevention measures.
- Persons with physical disabilities experience higher rates of depression than the able-bodied population. This places their mental health at risk as a result of the required social isolation.
Given these challenges, I have put together a few thoughts on how the able-bodied population might be able to help make sure everyone is looked after in this time of crisis.
Be extra vigilant with sanitation/hygiene
There is already a lot of uncertainty around COVID-19, but this is especially true for those who have complex medical conditions and are worried about having the severe complications we hear are possible.
If you are entering the home or helping someone with physical disabilities or mobility impairment, it is best to assume this person might be at increased risk and take extra special care when it comes to sanitation and hand hygiene.
Just because you may not be stressed about getting sick, doesn’t mean the person you are helping is not. Please strictly follow all of the requirements. It might also help to reassure and communicate all of the things you are doing to reduce the potential for spreading the virus, as this will comfort the person on the receiving side and ease some of the stress.
As companies start to restrict access, offer new delivery services, and figure out new ways to provide access to products. Also, allow some wiggle room to be able to accommodate those with more complex needs.
For example, leaving a heavy package at the door of someone who can’t pick it up will require them to find additional help with getting the goods in their home. Not only would this potentially delay them getting what they require, but it could also lead to another person potentially carrying a virus into their home.
I encourage everyone to think about the consequences of all the new rules to those with limited mobility issues. We need to be flexible in cases where it could significantly help those who might need it.
Allow special instructions for those with mobility challenges
If you are setting up a delivery service or online orders, try to allow a field for special instructions. It’s also good to provide a phone number where people can call to talk to someone. This can allow a person to communicate if there are any special requirements or instructions upon delivery. I am the Chief Operating Officer at Tango Medical. Tango Medical is based in New Brunswick and provides home medical rehab equipment and custom foot orthotics. Tango takes a client-centered approach to find solutions to an individual’s needs. Some of the products we sell include wheelchairs, power scooters, lift chairs, walkers, stairlifts, and more. At Tango, we have experience providing delivery services to people with mobility challenges.
Those with mobility impairments are often on a fixed income with very little wiggle room. If you are providing a delivery service, consider how price increases might affect those who have less financial flexibility. Furthermore, this population might have been relying on public transportation services which are now suspended. Higher costs of taxi services and delivery might be adding a lot of financial pressure.
Reach out to those with physical disabilities
If you know someone with a disability who is self-isolating alone, I encourage you to reach out. Sometimes a video chat or phone call can help ease the feelings of isolation.
Offer to help
As someone with a disability, asking for help is not something I like to do. I avoid it wherever possible. Having someone offer to help is a welcome treat, especially when they do it respectfully. No one should feel like less of a person for having physical disabilities. I know many people want to help, but some people with mobility impairments aren’t great at asking for it. Please consider reaching out to see what you can do.
If we work together, we can conquer this pandemic and take care of each other in the process.