There is concern there are thousands of disabled people across the region whose experience of how the pandemic has affected them isn’t being told.
West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Midland Mencap believe many aren’t speaking up about how Covid has impacted their lives, so the two organisations are finding out how lockdown has affected disabled people’s ability to access exercise and what can be done to help them be active in the future.
As part of the Include Me Citizens Network programme, they are appealing for disabled people to get in touch and let them know about their experiences – good or bad.
Ashleigh Jones, the Citizens Network connector
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “We know that the pandemic has shone a light on pre-existing inequalities in the UK, which is why the findings of our Health of the Region report were so important.
“Disabled people – many who have been shielding – have felt cut off from society because of the pandemic, and so as we head towards the end of lockdown it is important we find out what barriers they face to create a region where no one is left behind.”
The two organisations are hoping to connect with disabled people who may be feeling abandoned during lockdown will help them to identify barriers to being more active, especially when the country starts to reopen.
In the West Midlands, nearly one in four are either disabled or have a long-term health condition and 45% of those do little to no physical activity. Isolation and loneliness leading to anxiety are being experienced across the country, and disabled people who are shielding are especially vulnerable, being unable to leave their home.
The Citizens Network has a ‘connector’ role who is responsible for going into communities to speak to disabled people directly to find out if they have been able to remain active during lockdown - and if not, if anything can be done to remove barriers to being active once lockdown is lifted.
Pam Johnson, operations manager, Midland Mencap, said: “We anticipate that coming out of lockdown will be challenging for some disabled people who may still be concerned about Covid, and many are not part of support groups who have their voices heard.
“Many disabled people will currently be shielding, however when the country starts to open up we want to be in a position where we have more of an idea of the barriers to activity across the region so we can address these problems.
“Barriers to activity for disabled people could be as simple as a swimming pool not having a hoist to help them into the water, or it be something more complex such as lack of suitable public transport.”
The work is part of WMCA’s Include Me West Midlands which aims to create a more inclusive environment and a better understanding of people’s needs. The Citizens Network has been created as a long-term programme to help disabled people be heard, with the aim of influencing policy and decision making as it develops.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, leader of Warwickshire County Council and WMCA portfolio holder for wellbeing, said: “The pandemic has affected everyone in a variety of ways and many disabled people have not been able to be as active as they would like.
“Now we have an opportunity to both give disabled people and people with long-term health conditions a voice and explore what barriers exist – both pre-Covid and now – and find out how they can be removed.”
To get involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org