Maverick Citizen


As the Covid-19 lockdown continues, please don’t forget about people living with disabilities

As the Covid-19 lockdown continues, please don’t forget about people living with disabilities

Having a disability probably does not in itself put someone at higher risk from coronavirus, but many people with disabilities do have specific underlying conditions that make the disease more dangerous for them – and self-isolation is often not an option.

It is heartening to see, despite our diversity, South Africans coming together as a nation to fight and hopefully overcome the Covid-19 pandemic — together with the international community. I am confident this focus will assist in preventing and reducing the outbreak of the virus.

A host of measures has been introduced for the vulnerable, destitute and needy throughout South Africa – one of several countries with high levels of socioeconomic inequality, including lack of access to clean water and other basic service deliverables.

Of particular concern to me as a person living with disabilities are the supportive and preventative measures required for my cohort. In his addresses on national television, President Cyril Ramaphosa has not addressed this pertinent issue.

Most people with disabilities are not in as privileged a position as me and can’t even afford basic needs, living from hand to mouth and often dependent on others for their care, including through social grants.

Having contracted poliomyelitis at three months old, I have a weakened leg for which I need a brace. But I was fortunate enough to have been afforded an education to degree level, including an honorary doctorate in education from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

My late son, Adam George, suffered from birth from cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination. He required care 24/7, home-managed by two nurses. Living with a disability and caring for one who was part of my own flesh lies at the heart of my empathy for those persons living with disabilities who are far less fortunate than me.

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Disability states that “persons with disabilities generally have more healthcare needs than others – both standard needs and needs linked to impairments – and are therefore more vulnerable to the impact of low quality or inaccessible healthcare services than others. Compared to persons without disabilities, persons with disabilities are more likely to have poor health: among 43 countries, 42% of persons with disabilities versus 6% of persons without disabilities perceive their health as poor.”

South Africa is no exception. While having a disability probably does not in itself put someone at higher risk from coronavirus, many persons with disabilities do have specific underlying conditions that make the disease more dangerous for them.

Many are in the high-risk category of becoming seriously ill and possibly dying as some medications they take in order to remain stable, healthy and empowered unfortunately do lower their immune systems. Thus the disabled are naturally more anxious than many others.

Self-isolation is often not an option for persons living with disabilities as they are reliant on caregivers for everyday self-care tasks and reliant on transport from others too, for example, to go shopping. The cleaning of homes and frequent washing of hands can be extra difficult due to physical impairment.

While I am cognisant and remain grateful for all the interventions on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society to deal with Covid-19, the following basics are required to allow persons living with disabilities to control, contain and overcome this pandemic alongside their fellow South African citizens:

  1. Delivery of care packages, including sanitisers, soap, masks and other essentials;
  2. A dedicated telephone hotline for a check-in service; and
  3. Accessible information.

Furthermore, I would like to call on all of us as citizens and residents of this country to work together, especially the youth. Let us not take this pandemic lightly. We’ve seen its devastating consequences in countries like China, Italy and Spain. Let us together adhere to the regulations of the lockdown to flatten the curve and help our systems and mechanisms fight the outbreak.

In the 21 days lockdown, may we remain safe, practice safe hygiene, continue physical distancing and, above all, continue to practice ubuntu. DM

Marlene le Roux is a Persons Living with Disabilities activist.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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