Disability Awareness Update - July 2020

Ronnie Armour, NICS Disability Champion reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic

It is undeniable that we have all had to adapt to different ways of working and living as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  While this has been a shared experience for all of us, each one of us will have experienced it differently.

We have all had to face obstacles, challenges and changes in our lives since lockdown began in March 2020, but for our disabled colleagues these may have been much more significant.  

Some colleagues may have faced additional challenges around accessing and adapting to the new ways of remote working. In addition, they may have faced challenges such as accessing medical services to manage or treat their conditions or have felt more isolated as a result of having to shield during the period under government health regulations     

Disability inclusion therefore is important now more than ever.

Mark Wilson, NICS Disability Working Group has kindly agreed to share his thoughts and experiences during the pandemic.

Mark's story

As a member of staff with mobility issues and chronic pain, I have had to find ways to cope during lockdown and working from home. Also having caring responsibilities for my wife who has MS, my daughter who has mild learning difficulties and my mother who is in her 80’s hasn’t made things any easier, but just as it has always been for me, you just get on with it, and knowing it’s for the common good makes it that little bit easier to cope with.

Believe it or not though the biggest problems I had was getting food, medication, and seeing my doctor. People sometimes don’t realise that it’s difficult for me to wait in a queue and shop when on crutches.  I don’t have an extended family, so at the start of lockdown I was sitting during the middle of night looking for slots from the supermarket to deliver our groceries. The introduction of the DfC priority delivery scheme about 6 weeks in made things a lot easier.

I am unable to walk very far, and then only with the aid of crutches or a rollator. Fortunately a good sized garden and great weather has eased the pressure of lockdown. That made me think about the challenges faced by people living in a flat with no garden. When restrictions eased slightly, it really made no difference to me, because I can’t walk well, and driving to Millisle to look at the sea wouldn’t been seen as a necessary journey at that point, as we were told to stay at home or take exercise from the front door.

I never thought that delivering shopping in the car to my mum would be the highlight of my week, but boy did that prove to be the case. Though even this was bittersweet as I could only have short socially distanced chats with her from her driveway.

I was also fortunate that I have been able to work from home, however due to my neck, back and leg pains, I need a special chair, footrest, and riser for my keyboard, which I was able to get from work to my house/office!!

At the start I found working at home a challenge, sitting in my seat for too long, not taking tea/lunch breaks at the appropriate time and not knowing when to move about, until reminded by increased pain and soreness. I have now got a routine which minimises these problems.

Like every one, I miss my colleagues’ company, chats and help throughout the day, and sometimes I feel a bit isolated. Sometimes I feel that in general disabled people being defined as vulnerable, means that they are forgotten, but I can’t say that about my managers who have been more than supportive.

The one thing that I really miss is watching football, and not being able to go to a game in the last 14 weeks has really depressed me, so when restrictions are fully relaxed, the 1st thing I will be doing is to sit in the stand to watch my favourite Irish Premier League team.

Mark’s experience highlights the need for us to be aware of the challenges that our disabled colleagues are experiencing and ensuring that they are supported during these challenging times.  

I encourage any disabled colleagues who are experiencing challenges at this time to reach out and speak to their line managers to see how best we can support you. I would also remind you of the range of support which is available to all staff which you can find on the Covid-19 staff information hub.

We are planning to launch a Disability Staff Network in early Autumn.  This will provide a network of mutual support and a collective voice for disabled colleagues with a view to raising awareness and improving understanding of disabilities.

Finally, given the dynamics of working from home and that so many of us are now are doing so, we need to work together to be as inclusive as possible.  It is important for us be sensitive to the needs of all colleagues during this time which may differ from our own, and consider how best we can meet and support them.

RONNIE ARMOUR

NICS DISABILITY CHAMPION

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