By IDA

 - May 28, 2020

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

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

Lisa is a 65-year old woman with physical disability from the Netherlands who uses a wheelchair for navigation. She now works remotely from home but notices that her quality of work and productivity has decreased. “My house is not that big so my working place is my living room, I can’t concentrate very well”, she says. Lisa lives alone. Although her daughter comes to visit her often, they do not have physical contact and she hardly sees any of her friends. She feels lonely and sad.

Barriers in grocery shopping

Lisa made use of home-delivery service at the supermarket the first week of confinement, however, it took over a week for her to receive it, so she now goes in person. She says that as a wheelchair user, many products are not within her reach and it can be difficult to get staff to help due to social distancing. She recalls the time when she was at the cash register, putting her groceries on the counter and someone put a hand on her shoulder offering their help. “They touched me and did not respect social distancing. It was very intrusive. People often have the best intentions but they should ask if I want help first”, she says. Lisa explains that being able to go grocery shopping on her own is very important for her. “It means I take responsibility for myself, which is important for my mental health and freedom”, she says.

Moreover, shops have a specific time reserved for older persons and wheelchair users. This is normally before 9am, however, this timing is not convenient for Lisa. “Going to the shop at the allocated time is not an option for me, it’s too early and doesn’t suit me at all”, she says. Lisa goes at other times, even though she know the risk is higher for her.

Barriers in mobility and accessibility

Lisa wonders why people are allowed to go to the hairdresser but not ride the train. Trains are not circulating often and Lisa encounters accessibility barriers. “In some trains you can drive yourself in but sometimes you need assistance and no one will come to help, as they don’t want to get near me due to social distancing. They often advice you not to take the train”, she says. Lisa thinks this is unfair as wheelchair users have the right to ride a train on an equal basis to others. Only from the 1st of June onwards, staff will be available to assist persons with disabilities, including wheelchair users. Until then, there will be no support.

She says that overall, public transport in the Netherlands is accessible, however, she often encounters problems when riding the bus. “Sometimes the bus ramp is to steep and I need someone to push me in, but I don’t get any help these days. Technically, the driver doesn’t have the responsibility to help”, she says.

Lisa is an administrator of a Facebook group that focuses on physical and environmental accessibility. A member of the group reported that no mobility scooters were allowed to enter the city center in Texel which is an island off the coast of the Netherlands. The reason behind this measure was that they take up too much space and social distancing would not be respected in regards to other pedestrians. “This is discriminatory against persons with disabilities”, she says. As a result of advocacy, this restriction was removed soon.

Barriers in accessing information and medical services

Lisa says she hasn’t received any information or specific guidelines for persons with disabilities. For instance, she wonders how wheelchair users can prevent getting COVID19 when their hands get dirty from touching wheelchair parts. She also has to remind people not to touch her wheelchair, as she cannot guarantee it is COVID-19 free. “I don’t know what is safe and what isn’t anymore. I’m not sure what are the measure we are supposed to follow, information is confusing”, she says. Lisa has now an allergic reaction to soap, as a consequence of washing compulsively and excessively.

Lissa’s medical treatment has been postponed. She urgently needs to see a doctor but hospitals are currently overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Going to the hospital can be risky and increases the chances of contracting the virus.  Her physiotherapy sessions have also been cancelled during the outbreak, which has made her health worse. Her own therapist contracted COVID-19, making her realise that everyone is exposed to the virus, despite the security measures.

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