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The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for increased understanding of disabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for increased understanding of disabilities

Credit: PA Images

5 min read

The detrimental effects of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing mean that raising the profile of non-visible illnesses is more relevant a task than ever.

Each year on December 3rd we recognise the value and contribution of all disabled people by joining the international community to mark the International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD.) This day serves as a reminder of the vital role we must all play to identify and combat the discrimination that many disabled people still face. 

Championing diversity and recognising the need for increasing public understanding of disabled people’s lives underpins IDWPD.

This year the UN-led day pays particular attention to awareness of non-visible disabilities, a facet of disability historically overlooked.

I welcome this opportunity to increase awareness on this important topic.

These are disabilities which are not immediately apparent, including (but not limited to) autism, sensory processing difficulties, brain injuries, chronic pain or fatigue, mental health conditions, hearing loss or diabetes.

It is impossible to effectively separate non-visible disabilities from visible ones, as many people with outwardly ‘visible’ disabilities may also have a non-visible disability. It is crucial to remember that even when a disability cannot be seen, it still exists.

The need for increased understanding of non-visible disabilities has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted routines and medical assistance for many.

The isolation and disconnect has been felt especially strongly by those whose services have been reduced temporarily or for those who are shielding or clinically extremely vulnerable.

The detrimental effects of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing mean that raising the profile of non-visible illnesses is more relevant a task than ever.

Increasing public awareness and knowledge surrounding medical exemptions from wearing face-coverings is paramount in ensuring that people are not challenged or even barred from participating in public spaces.

The Government is committed to supporting disabled people affected by the Covid-19 and I am proud of that we have ensured that disabled people continue to have access to employment support, disability benefits, financial support; food, medicines, as well as accessible communications and updated guidance.

However, I am concerned that some disabled people with medical exemptions from wearing a face covering have reported facing hostility when out in public spaces without one, especially where they might have non-visible disabilities.

Increasing public awareness and knowledge surrounding medical exemptions from wearing face-coverings is paramount in ensuring that people are not challenged or even barred from participating in public spaces.

I want to touch on disability employment. I am proud we have delivered record disability employment of 4.3 million up 1.4 million since 2013 but Covid-19 means we face an unprecedented challenge.

Despite this, DWP is committed to making sure that employers have the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to for an increasingly diverse and inclusive workforce.

We remain every bit as ambitious with our goal of 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027.

The Disability Confident scheme, which provides employers with what they need to attract, recruit, retain and develop disabled people in the workplace, now has record numbers of business engaging with it.

Thinking creatively to increase inclusivity

The pandemic has allowed us to think creatively about different ways of working that might be more inclusive for some disabled.

The use of new technology opens up the world of work to people who may previously have felt marginalised in the workplace and is imperative in building back better after the pandemic to create inclusive workplaces full of opportunity for disabled people.

The Access to Work scheme funds up to £60,700 per employee to provide support, adjustments and technology to make the workplace more accessible.

Every one of us has a part to play in championing our efforts and ensuring that the positive changes we have already made continue to evolve and progress. 

Furthermore, I am keen to do more to support those with health conditions.

Through the consultation ‘Health is Everyone’s Business’, a range of proposals were looked at which aimed at supporting employers to minimise the risk of health-related job loss, including strengthening the legal framework around sickness and ill health, reforming statutory sick pay so it is more flexible and better enforced and expanding employers’ access to occupational health services and related advice and information. I anticipate that a response to this consultation will be available shortly.

National Strategy for Disabled People

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention that the Government will also publish a National Strategy for Disabled People, a key manifesto commitment, in 2021 focusing on removing barriers to ensure disabled people can lead a life of opportunity and fully participate in British society. 

This highly ambitious strategy takes a cross government approach, focusing on the issues that disabled people say affect them the most in all aspects and phases of life, including housing, education and transport.

All departments are contributing to the goal of removing barriers and making this country more inclusive for disabled people.

The lived experience of disabled people will be at the heart of the strategy, which will support disabled people in all aspects and phases of their lives, including housing, education, transport and job.

Its significance is even greater as we re-build the UK's economy and society in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is still work to be done to achieve full equality for disabled people, and recognising IDPWD enables us to continue that conversation and drive positive change in society

I urge people to continue to strive for increased accessibility, opportunity and equality, to work towards a better future for disabled people.

Every one of us has a part to play in championing our efforts and ensuring that the positive changes we have already made continue to evolve and progress. 

Read the most recent article written by Justin Tomlinson MP - I’m determined to put disabled people at the forefront of Covid recovery

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