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September 08, 2020

COVID-19 & The Future of People With Disabilities

It’s hard to imagine pre-covid-19 life was so different, the words ‘social distancing’ was a term none of us had used before or even had to do and we didn’t have to wear face masks. We even didn’t have to rely Teams, Zoom and  other video calling software programs a lot.

If anyone had said this time last year, there would be a global pandemic which would result in a complete lockdown, I think it’s fair to say, none of us saw it coming. Yet here we are 12 months later, seeing a rise in covid-19 cases which could potentially lead to a second wave.

At the beginning when the virus initially started in Wuhan China, I think none of us would have ever thought or predicted that the virus would come towards the UK and we probably didn’t think the virus could affect the UK in the way it has done even more so for people with disabilities and young people.

Overall being a young woman who not only comes from a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background as well as having a disability, dealing with the pandemic has not been easy just like anyone, it has been an anxious and a particularly worrying time. Personally for me, I felt disappointed in the lack of clarity from our national government as often I felt in particular during the current phase we are in, there’s been a lot of mixed messaging and as a result, some members of the general public have interpreted the message in their own way which has seen a particular increase in the number of covid related cases. I personally remember feeling a lot of confusion and anger as a person who has a disability, I felt like we were ignored and we weren’t being protected enough as people who were in the shielded category. At times part of me thought and questioned what would happen if I had got the virus? Would I die? Would my life be severely affected than what is now? If I’m really honest, part of me lost a lot of trust with our national government.

Before covid-19, I had lost count of the numbers of people within society who either stared at me or made comments related to my disability such as ‘What happened to your hand?’ ‘Where’s your wheelchair? or even ‘Where’s your carer?’  whenever I was out doing ‘ordinary’ activities such as meeting friends, going shopping as well as travelling on public transport. 

Within the past few years, I’ve been solely focused on my career as I want to convey that my 3 protected characteristics are no barrier to success. Despite having been rejected for job interviews because of employers’ negative approaches towards disability.  I’m determined to make it and to prove society wrong! Today as I write this blog, I’m proud to say I’ve recently started a new role within the NHS doing PA Support and alongside this, I’m also a member of the Young Combined Authority for our region.. 

Being a part of the NHS has certainly made me prouder of the incredible hard work our key workers have always done and even more so during the pandemic. However more from a personal and professional development, I know I can be successful within the NHS and see my career grow. Whereas with the YCA, it can increase my platform and presence with the endless opportunities I’m given whilst working alongside other incredible and passionate young people who are just as passionate as I am about driving change to our region. Working together I know we will play a key role in making a big impact!

As we look towards when the pandemic is over, there is talk and many questions about what the ‘new norm’ will look like.  Whilst we don’t know what the future holds for us nor how long it will be until we are free from the virus, my hope is that we become a more positive inclusive society where the negative attitudes towards disability are a thing of the past. A society where people with disabilities are free of barriers and are able to live as ordinary lives as possible without judgements or negative remarks about a person’s disability, a society where if a person is having a particular bad day in terms of their health and they have a job, working from home is there for people so they don’t have to worry about losing their job or even forced to take a sick day because of a long term condition. A society where it is okay to go out by ourselves if we want to without people thinking we need to watched by a carer just because we have additional needs. A society where we are supported with our needs related to our conditions to be able to live ordinary lives as possible where we are listened to and respected not classed as unrealistic due to our medical conditions.

We may be people with disabilities but we are people first! People who deserve the same respect and fair treatment as everyone else. 

Our disabilities should not define us!

About Gina

Gina Patel is an advocate for people with disabilities. She has a disability.  Gina is a West Midlands Young Combined Authority Board Member as well as a Co-Portfolio lead for Skills and Digital. In addition to this, Gina works for Health Education England (NHS) as a PA Support Administrator.

Twitter – @PatelGinaS