- September 29, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

Names have been changed to protect the individuals mentioned in the story. 


The following article includes the story of a man and a woman from different parts of Spain, who share the barriers faced during COVID-19.

The virus was first confirmed to have spread to Spain on 31 January 2020 in the Canary Islands. The lockdown was imposed on 14 March 2020 and ended on 21 June. Spain is the first country in Europe to record half a million cases of COVID-19.

Antonio is a man in his early 40s with a physical disability from Valladolid, northeast of Spain. He is a social worker at an employment center for persons with disabilities. “I feel a lot more pressure at work as the workload has only increased”, he says. He specifically works with persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities who work at an industrial laundry, where sheets and towels from hospitals are cleaned. “People are very scared of getting infected by COVID-19 as they feel exposed when handling hospital material. They are afraid of bringing the virus home or infecting the whole staff”, he says. There are around 100 persons with disabilities working at the factory.

Also, the absence of leisure activities has had a negative psychological impact. “Work is more intense and the chances to disconnect from it are very few, meaning the burden on our mental health is higher”, he says. However, Antonio admits that it he is happy he has not lost his job and the factory keeps running.

On the other hand, Marisa is a woman in her late 40s living in Extremadura, central-west of Spain. She has a hearing and psychosocial disability and works as a cleaner at a hospital. She feels excluded from society, as she has lost her job and any form of social contact. Marisa is currently on sick leave, but she is unable to work anyway during COVID-19 as she has a pulmonary chronic condition, which makes her at higher risk from coronavirus.

Barriers in accessing information

Antonio says that official information provided by the Spanish government and the media has not been clear. “There was too much information and it changed from one day to the other. It was rarely in accessible formats”, he says. His organisation has had to adapt the information and filter it to ensure they were providing up to date, official information. This included simplifying relevant information, easy to read language, pictograms and sound files. Also, most of his work has focused on a COVID-19 response, in providing assistance, food, alternative transport, allocations, etc.

Moreover, many entities have continued providing their services online, but without taking digital accessibility into account. “Those who were unable to access physically and digitally many services, have had no way of accessing them. They have been left out”, he says.

Marisa, as a woman with a hearing disability, struggles to find information in accessible formats or sign language interpretation.

Barriers in carrying out daily tasks

One of the biggest challenges for Antonio has been the access to public transport. Due to limited service hours and routes, Antonio has to walk for 1 hour to get to work, as opposed to 10 minutes using public transport. He has also had to rely on his colleagues to give him a lift. “I have noticed people were more aggressive as the situation got worse due to COVID-19. Even when walking home from or to work, many of us have been insulted and called names for being in the streets, this made us very tense and uncomfortable”, he says.

Moreover, when going grocery shopping, Antonio explains that many supermarkets nearby were closed, which meant he was unable to carry out this daily task autonomously. “I had to rely on other friends, family or volunteers to go shopping. There has been no strategy to cover the basic needs of persons with disabilities”, he regrets.

Barriers in securing an income

The loss of employment or lack of means of securing an income has been a challenge for many persons with disabilities. “Many have lost their jobs or got their working hours reduced. People have not received compensation or government allocations. What happens to those without savings? Basic needs can’t even be covered”, says Antonio. He explains that more people have demanded the help of his organisation and the desperation was evident. There has also been an increase of the demand to obtain food from charity canteens. Moreover, the lack of accessible means of obtaining government assistance has made the process even harder.

Marisa was part of a trade union and was in need of information and counselling. She feels that people are generally more nervous and impatient. “My case was discarded as unimportant. I had to leave the trade union. This made me have a panic attack”, she says. “Trade unions are not inclusive of deaf and hard of hearing persons, I end up fighting for my labour rights on my own”, she says. Her son has also lost his job.

Barriers in accessing medical assistance

Marisa explains that it gives her anxiety to think that if she was to get sick, she would not receive medical attention as hospitals are only focusing on COVID-19 patients. “I had an appointment with my psychiatrist in March and it was moved to the end of June, to be held online. He thinks I exaggerate or fake my anxiety”, she says. “Women with disabilities, especially us with psychosocial disabilities, face multiple discrimination. We are discarded as crazy or hysteric”, adds Marisa. Moreover, she is not sure if she will ever be able to work again as her medical condition has gotten worse and she’s waiting to see a doctor, but all appointments have been cancelled.

Antonio also highlights the barriers faced by deaf and hard of hearing persons. “There have been no assistance for this particular group and interpreters were not available at medical centers”, he says. Antonio’s organisation has had to provide assistance to persons with a hearing and also psychosocial disability. “I had to interpret at the best of my availability for a deaf person, when requesting telemedicine. Doctors were hardly ever on time for the phone appointment and we wasted entire mornings waiting for the phone to ring”, he says. Antonio explains that communication over the phone is difficult and instructions are not always clear and concise. “Staff use complicated language and medical terms, which means many persons are unable to access medical assistance without help”, he says. “The fact that people cannot go in person results in other accessibility issues and obliges persons with disabilities to rely on other people and make use of their time”, he says.

“When talking about inclusion and persons with disabilities should be prioritized, especially if we have chronic illnesses or mental health issues. We cannot be left behind”, says Marisa.


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