Corona, Corona, Corona! Corona is on everyone’s lips at the moment, because the almost uncontrollable growth of the corona virus worries us all. The media is full of infection figures and reports of patients, lack of capacity in the clinics and even lack of personnel. But where are the disabled people in this extraordinary situation? How will the renewed quarantine ordered by the government affect the “network” of disabled people in your care in homes or at home? Have they suffered disadvantages as a result of these events or have rights even been knowingly violated?
Katrin Langensiepen of the Greens is the only female MEP with a visible disability. She is committed to a green, social and inclusive Europe. Through the EU interparliamentary working group, she calls on the member states to find new alternatives and solutions to address and minimize challenges in these areas.
What is your assessment: Are people with disabilities at increased risk for Covid-19 infection or not?
Of course. People with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that many people with disabilities belong to the risk group, but on the other hand, existing discrimination problems also increase the risk dramatically.
In recent months, unfortunately, the human rights of people with disabilities have been violated too often: Many have been denied access to medical assistance (triage), important support and care services and information.
Isolated living in institutions had devastating consequences. Half of the corona deaths occurred in institutions at the beginning of the year, including institutions for people with disabilities. If we were to live in a world that would actually conform to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and in one where independent living is made possible for people with disabilities in the community through appropriately funded assistance and assistance – much suffering could have been prevented.
That is why I also call for a strong EU strategy in favour of people with disabilities, which puts enough pressure on the EU Member States to finally implement the UN Convention to which they committed themselves 10 years ago.
The Covid 19 Academy is causing a major economic crisis, which will have a direct or indirect impact on the social system. Does the European Parliament provide funds to support people with disabilities in this regard?
Yes, the European Union does this through various funds. For example, projects and organizations for people with disabilities are supported through the European Social Fund and the Fund for the most disadvantaged. The latter has been increased and made more flexible in recent months. In the Social Committee, I have made a special effort to ensure that non-discrimination is taken into account in the distribution of funds.
For people with mental or neurological developmental disorders, such as autism, the insertion of the Covid-19 test stick is often an invasive and traumatic experience. Is there an alternative that you know of?
I am not an expert here. However, a first important step would be to sensitize medical personnel to this issue and to train them in the proper handling of people with cognitive disabilities. This is a fundamental problem that existed even before Corona.
Deaf and hard of hearing people need alternative communication channels and support to overcome communication barriers, for example to access corona-relevant information. Which possibilities are already being used for this today?
It must become the norm that relevant press and government announcements are accompanied by sign language interpretation on television. This is not a crazy special request, but a human right. Ministries and public agencies must also offer counseling services for the deaf and hearing impaired.
According to media reports, during the first wave of infection, decisions had to be made in hospitals as to who should be connected to a ventilation system and thus saved and who should not (triage): Among other things, the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions and people with disabilities were partially excluded from intensive care units. What is actively done within the acute second wave to avoid selections in general?
I was shocked to see how quickly in a crisis situation the old, eerie notion that a life of a person with a disability is worth less came back to the surface.
Who is ventilated, who is not?
In the Member States where hospitals are at their limits, frailty, age and life expectancy are indeed criteria.
Criteria that indirectly “sorted out” many people with disabilities.
Of course, everything must be done to avoid overburdened hospitals in the first place. Through the EU’s emergency instrument, member states support each other, patients are transferred to neighboring countries, and nurses come as reinforcement.
But the years of underfunding of public health and care will not be solved in a few months.
Every life is equally worth saving. When triage occurs, there must be no discrimination.
In Germany, some people with disabilities complain against the current recommendations of the professional society on triage. That is correct in such a way.
Politicians must not be cowardly and accept human rights violations.
That is why I am also calling for a committee of inquiry in the European Parliament.
In order to protect the so-called “risk groups”, which include people with disabilities, many facilities were “quarantined” completely for weeks, thus isolating the people living there from the outside world. What approaches are there to enable these people to participate in the community despite the pandemic?
Right at the beginning of the pandemic, I started a petition in Germany against the isolation of risk groups under the motto “We will not be divided”. The attitude “risk groups should stay at home” is fundamentally wrong. If the community follows the AHA rules in solidarity, people are less afraid to leave one of the risk groups. With well thought-out testing strategies, divided, smaller groups at work, more public transport or even separate shopping hours for risk groups even less.
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, many people were locked up in institutions against their will, which had dramatic consequences.
In the second wave, lessons were learned. Facilities are being given more support with tests and protective material. But there is still room for improvement.
The magic words are protection and solidarity.
On your homepage you take a stand on the fact that people with disabilities will not have access to information, assistance and services during the pandemic. What do you think about the idea of a social network, which serves the exchange of information between people with disabilities and the provision of such information?
I think it is very important that people with disabilities stick together and fight for their rights – both online and in real life. After all, every fifth person in the EU lives with a disability. That’s quite a lot that together can make a big difference and support each other.