Greater equality does not occur by treating everyone equally. This truth should be self-evident. We do not experience our physical, emotional and social worlds in the same way. Many barriers impede disabled people’s access to the range of opportunities available. Some are physical, others environmental or economic; often it is a combination. Other barriers exist in latent form, and are manifest in times of crisis. Pressure on systems can reveal underlying assumptions about the perceived worth of disabled citizens.The response to the pandemic, Covid-19, is one such example.
In the early days of the virus, concerns were raised about health guidance that appeared to discriminate against disabled people. Following protests and legal scrutiny the guidance was amended. Similarly, concerns were raised about the propensity to apply Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notices to disabled patients records. Such actions appeared to be based on the erroneous assumption that having an impairment was the same as having an underlying health condition. In this context, it is not enough to support disabled people to ‘take their chances’ in a health and social care system under pressure and expect equal outcomes. From a human rights perspective, it was necessary to take practical steps to mitigating predictable risks arising from such systemic discrimination.
Such steps included working with individuals and their families (where appropriate) to review their Communication Passports, in readiness for any potential hospital admission. Supporting individuals to secure, from their GP, a ‘letter of comfort’ detailing that their disability was not an underlying health condition. Also, that any such conditions that did exist, was well managed. Individuals, families, team members and wider networks of multi-agency support actively worked together to ensure human rights were respected, protected and fulfilled.
Everyone has not experienced the pandemic in the same way. We do not achieve greater equality by denying the impact of this crisis has fallen more heavily on some than others. It stands to reason that if disabled citizens are disproportionately detrimentally affected by this pandemic, they should be prioritised for measures to offset these impacts. This includes financial aid, access to support and of course priority access to vaccine roll out.
On international Human Rights Day, we consider the impact on a global and national scale. It is also incumbent upon us to seek the opportunities we all have to repect, protect and fullfill human rights obligations in ‘those small places close to home’. Knowing that, ‘without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world’ (Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958)
Sam Smith – C-Change CEO