Disability community wellbeing during lockdown

 Researchers surveyed the disability community to determine their financial and emotional wellbeing since the start of the global pandemic and national lockdown. Their findings call for more inclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown haven’t left a stone unturned. No one has been immune to the impact the pandemic and lockdown have had on individual lives and the economy.

For some, the impact has been more of an inconvenience with less access to their favourite activities, visiting friends or family, or adapting to working from home. For others, the pandemic and lockdown has been completely devasting.

A group of researchers from the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) were interested in how the lockdown impacted on the lives of people with disabilities. To find out more, they ran a survey from July 1 to August 31, 2021.

The questionnaire received 1 857 responses. The majority of the respondents were above 18 and lived in Gauteng.

In October, the HSRC presented the results of the survey in a webinar titled: “Socioeconomic wellbeing and human rights-related experience of people with disabilities in COVID-19 times in South Africa”.

There were several key findings from their research. The survey ran from July 1 to August 31 with 1 857 survey responses.

Economic wellbeing

A key focus area for the HSRC was the financial wellbeing of people with disabilities during the lockdown. First, they determined the living situation of the respondents before the virus struck.

The majority live in informal housing with 43 percent living in a township or RDP houses. A further 20 percent lived in the backyard shack or room within a township.

The majority (64 percent) relied on a government grant with 31 percent receiving a disability grant and 33 percent receiving the social relief distress grant, which was introduced after the first lockdown.

Most concerning was the income of the respondents. A shocking 73 percent earned R5 000 or less per month. Of these, 40 percent earned R2 500 or less, while 13 percent lived off less than R561 per month.

Understandably, the majority were concerned about their financial position with 78 percent stating that they were much more concerned for their economic wellbeing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority (76 percent) also agreed with the statement: “Due to my financial situation, as a result of lockdown, I have difficulties paying for my living expenses”. Of the people surveyed, 40 percent ran out of money to buy food, 39 percent experienced someone within their household going to bed hungry and 39 percent went to bed hungry themselves.

Emotional wellbeing

The HSRC was also interested in determining how the lockdown and pandemic impacted the mental and emotional wellbeing of South Africans with disabilities. Understandably, most experienced negative emotions with 60 percent stating that they were stressed, 54 percent were depressed and 52 percent were scared.

Fortunately, 69 percent of the respondents addressed these negative emotions with 29 percent seeking out professional mental healthcare service. People also reached out to friends and family, read or consumed entertainment, and practiced physical activity and relaxation techniques.

Caregiver access

With many people with disabilities depending on a caregiver to assist with certain activities, the HSRC enquired about the access to caregiver services. Of the respondents, 60 percent indicated that they require caregiver support. With lockdown, 46 percent of participants experienced interruptions in caregiver support. The reasons for these interruptions weren’t mentioned.

Other factors included in the survey were engagements with law enforcement, the good and bad that came from the lockdown, and the perceptions around the vaccines. The respondents had the following to say:

  • 69 percent were physically harassed by law enforcement;
  • 57 percent said there was nothing good that came from the lockdown;
  • 19 percent said the family time and staying home was the good that came from the lockdown; and
  • 78 percent said that they would get vaccinated when it becomes available to them.

Final findings

Based on all the responses to the survey, the HSRC made a few conclusions and recommendations for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown on the lives of people with disabilities.

For starters, the HSRC concluded that the disaster and risk framework for people with disabilities is far from complete with few disaster regulations focusing on people with disabilities.

Most notably, many of the services for people with disabilities (for example, access to caregivers) were interrupted. There was also little communication between government departments and disability organisations.

Finally, the HSRC highlighted the urgency of making the disaster and risk framework disability inclusive to assist the community to better recover from the impact of the lockdown and pandemic. The majority of the community (83 percent) indicated that they are happy to be monitored.

View the slides from the webinar on the socio-economic wellbeing of South Africans with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic here.

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