Coronavirus exposes the fatal flaws in our attitudes towards disability

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As we near the third week of quarantine, a worrying trend in our response to the coronavirus has started to emerge. Seen in both politicians and university faculty alike, the somewhat blasé attitude toward those of us with underlying conditions is concerning at best, and frightening at worst.

“Concerning at best, frightening at worst.”

The mindset of many able-bodied people around me seems to be that with the virus only those with underlying health conditions are at serious risk. This is not only wrong, but it is genuinely terrifying that people are seeing this as an acceptable and collateral cost, particularly when considering the wave of stories surrounding disabled people being denied treatment in triage and later dying.

Equally, the distribution of ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) forms to those with physical and mental disabilities is disturbing. According to the Guardian, a GP practice in Wales sent these forms to a “small” number of patients, and an adult social care organisation has been informed that everybody they support should be receiving these DNRs. Similarly, the BBC has revealed an organisation that supports autistic adults in Somerset has been told that all of its clients will require DNRs.

Naturally, this puts a great deal of stress on Oxford students with disabilities. As someone with cerebral palsy, I am very aware of my ‘vulnerable’ status, and how I would be treated, if at all, should I get COVID-19. My disability renders me somewhat immunodeficient, but usually, the only consequence of this is having the yearly flu jab. However, the fact that I have a weakened immune system is constantly on my mind, and I would be lying if I said this was not affecting my mental health.

“The distribution of DNRs to those with disabilities is disturbing”

This is what makes Oxford’s response to its disabled students so concerning. Trinity Term is due to start in two weeks and we have only received a single email from the Disability Advisory Service, telling us that Student Welfare and Support Services building is now closed and that our disability advisors should be in contact with us or that we should contact them should we have any concerns. However, this does not even scratch the surface of potential concerns of disabled students.

The University has not referred to the fact that vulnerable students will be facing a longer and stricter isolation period than our peers, and how that could affect our mental health, and as a result our studies. Additionally, the lack of access to the resources in Oxford will harm our work. For some, the reduction in outpatient appointments and care will likely lead to a deterioration in physical health. All this will result in a further decline in the wellbeing of such students.

While there is meant to be goodwill in the University’s cavalier approach of trying to keep things as “normal” as possible for students, it is simply not feasible, especially for us who are vulnerable.  These students will be disadvantaged since the virus presents far more risks and challenges to us as opposed to our peers.

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