Dr. Danner, how does the coronavirus crisis impact people with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses?
Dr. Martin Danner: One thing we should keep in mind is that many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses are considered a high-risk group for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and are at an increased risk of infection or severe illness. Restrictions, social distancing guidelines and precautions eliminate most options to foster personal growth and engage in social interactions. This pertains to both face-to-face interactions that were an essential part of the pre-pandemic self-help group setting, and contact with family members. Isolation and social exclusion continue to be key issues in this crisis.
School-aged children also find themselves in a unique situation. It is wonderful that schools are reopening, but it forces students with chronic illnesses and their family members to make a tough decision: Should they take the risk of attending in-person instruction or stay home from school and miss out on access to education? As a general rule, students should have the same homeschooling accommodations and opportunities they received when school remained closed during the previous shutdown. However, it’s apparent that their needs are quickly falling by the wayside.
How are people with disabilities being taken into account in the current coronavirus discourse?
Dr. Danner: Right now there is lots of talk about loosening restrictions in most areas but hardly any mention of high-risk groups. Having said that, the pandemic has brought discrimination and social exclusion to the fore but from a different perspective. People who never had to deal with social exclusion before – one example of this is residents quarantined in Gütersloh, Germany, after a drastic coronavirus outbreak – suddenly experienced what it is like not to be welcome in certain vacation destinations. The coronavirus crisis has increased social awareness for specific topics. Now it’s up to people with disabilities to call attention to the fact that they are actually always affected by the problems of containment measures, ostracism, and social exclusion, regardless of the ongoing pandemic. It is my hope that this will prompt a learning effect and sustained awareness in society.