The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging and "scary" for Island residents with intellectual and physical disabilities, says the executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.
Marcia Carroll said, for example, masks and plastic shields make it difficult for people who rely on reading lips. And for those who communicate by sign language, the lack of an interpreter during the government's COVID-19 briefings can deny them of real-time information.
For some with visual impairments, who often rely on physically touching objects for support or for obtaining information, pathways are obstructed and known environments have been changed.
The social isolation and change in routine can be confusing and upsetting for some people with intellectual disabilities, she said.
Access to buildings a challenge
Kurtis Kelly, who uses a wheelchair, said even accessing his favourite restaurant can be a challenge if traffic flow protocols necessitate a ramp or accessible door cannot be used as both an entrance and an exit.
"I had to apologize to the staff that I'm using their exit path to get in but the other option really wasn't viable for me," he said.
Before the pandemic, Kelly and a friend, who also has a disability, would go to the gym twice a week. But he said they are no longer able to go because they need help with the equipment, and physical distancing measures prevent staff from providing that help.
"I've definitely been indoors a lot more often," he said.
It's our role to make sure that people with disabilities experience full citizenship like all other citizens. — Marcia Carroll, P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities
Carroll said it's important for government to be mindful of these challenges when making policy around COVID-19.
"I think our provincial government has done a fantastic job and been responding and to a situation that none of us are familiar with. And these aren't criticisms, but it's our role to make sure that people with disabilities experience full citizenship like all other citizens," she said in an interview with Island Morning host Laura Chapin.
Carroll would like to see continued consultation and more resources to address the needs of people with disabilities as they navigate the pandemic. She said social isolation is one of the biggest factors that adversely affect their lives.
She said people with autism, in particular, sometimes don't respond well to a change in routine.
"Routine is very important, particularly in creating stability in their lives and understanding how things are working around them," she said.
"So when things are changing so quickly, people are being asked to wear masks, they're being asked to social distance. And, you know, some people with intellectual disabilities don't understand those concepts. And it can be alienating for them and it can be very scary for them."
Government trying to address challenges
Ernie Hudson, P.E.I.'s minister of social development, said the government is trying to address some of these challenges. He said it has been difficult to find a sign language interpreter for the COVID-19 briefings, but they have added closed captioning on their Facebook and YouTube platforms.
He said everything "needs to be on the table."
"We need to look at as many avenues as we can to reach all Islanders, you know, whether they may be seniors, whether they may be individuals with disabilities," he said.
"We have to always be open ... to receive that feedback from the public and from individuals who do have lived experience and to be able to move forward on those."
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