Disabled people abused over physical distancing

Wheelchair street

The overwhelming majority of disabled Scots say they have faced difficulties with physical distancing

12th June 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Disabled people have reported being spat on as they struggle to cope with physical distancing.

A new study released by Disability Equality Scotland reveals 99% of disabled people have experienced difficulties with distancing during lockdown.

The poll, which generated more than 900 responses, was carried out in collaboration with the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland (MACS) and posed the question ‘During your daily exercise or when undertaking essential journeys, have you experienced any issues with physical distancing?”

Key concerns related to infrastructure, with pavements not being wide enough, nor equipped to deal with disabled peoples’ needs even without the added complication of retaining a two-metre distance.  Pavement parking further exacerbated this issue as did street clutter such as bins or street furniture; an issue Disability Equality Scotland raised recently in response to the proposed amendment in the Coronavirus Bill at stage 2.  Food shopping also remains challenging for disabled people especially as increased numbers of people return to the shops, disabled people felt more at risk.

However, it was the responses relating to the attitude and behaviour of members of the public towards disabled people that sparked the greatest concerns.  The poll revealed the extent to which disabled people have been approached and accused of breaking lockdown or questioned why they are making essential journeys by members of the public.  The perception is clearly that all disabled people should be shielding, and at worst; are potentially ‘infecting others’ by being outside.

One respondent said: “I was spat at yesterday for asking someone to clear my space.”

The poll results also indicate mistreatment by transport staff refusing travel to disabled people, many of whom are key workers trying to carry out their day-to-day lives.

Morven Brooks, chief executive of Disability Equality Scotland, said: “We are very concerned at the numbers of disabled people who have experienced this type of hate crime.  It is of great concern how this new ‘normal’ will impact the long-term mental health of many people, especially our attitudes towards one another.  Please be kind, courteous and thoughtful of others, we don’t know yet how long this new ‘normal’ will last!”

Linda Bamford, convenor of MACS, added: “It is extremely worrying and concerning that disabled people are experiencing hate crime during this public health crisis.  I thought we were further on in our journey than this; but it is good to get this out and start to address some of these issues.  It is totally unacceptable.  MACS is aware of some of the infrastructures barriers and we are working with stakeholders to address this and design places and spaces that are easy for everyone to access, navigate and use.”

A briefing paper summarising the comments has been circulated to ministers and officials at the Scottish Government and other partner organisations and is available on the Disability Equality Scotland website.