The Malta Independent 8 April 2020, Wednesday

Coronavirus: People with disability face extra fear and uncertainty – Oliver Scicluna

Giulia Magri Thursday, 26 March 2020, 10:50 Last update: about 8 days ago

The COVID-19 outbreak brought with it fear and uncertainty for everyone, but this is being felt more strongly by people with disability given the sudden societal changes, Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability Oliver Scicluna told The Malta Independent.

Scicluna spoke about what can be done to safeguard both the physical and mental health of disabled people during this period.

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All over the globe everyone is adapting to the new ‘normal’, but this has proven to be adding pressure and anxiety to individuals trying to cope. “The COVID19 pandemic has created anxiety because it brought fear and uncertainty. Imagine the extra anxiety, fear and uncertainty it brought on disabled individuals and their families due to their additional societal challenges.” Scicluna said that during the past few days numerous persons with disability or family members have contacted him to ask about their concerns, regarding employment and services provided to them.

On Tuesday evening, the government announced that any disabled person who works in the private sector and are registered with JobsPlus and chose to stay at home at this time due to COVID-19 will benefit from €800 monthly.

“The government has created a good initiative to safeguard the employment of disabled people who are currently working within the private sector. As for those working within the public sector, there is a clear direction that if the disabled person is at risk, the person should be asked to telework and if unable is sent home,” said Commissioner Scicluna.

He noted that it is crucial that the government puts these people’s minds at rest that they will not lose their job, especially after years of seeking employment and finally managing to enter the labour market.

Parents of autistic or disabled children facing a ‘doubleedged sword’

Scicluna explained that he has received concerns from parents of autistic children and those with intellectual disabilities who are out of school. “It is a wellknown fact that when such children lose their routine, this might impact their wellbeing and impinge on their educational experience. This is worse when the individual has challenging behaviour,” he said.

He said that many parents are worried about the fact that they will have to start all over again once the situation goes back to normal, which means time and money for these parents. He highlights that it has already taken time for an autistic child to adapt to going to school, but now they are always at home, and this is additional stress for parents trying to explain the situation to them. Scicluna said the Education Ministry has also created a helpline to support the needs of all students, especially those with a disability.

“Many children have stopped receiving services such as Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Speech Therapy and other forms of therapies due to the precautionary measures taken. This is a double edged sword, since therapies are important for both children and adults, but at this moment in time one’s health is of utmost importance,” said Scicluna. He remarked that it would be ideal and beneficial if such therapists would get in touch online with parents or the disabled person to guide them accordingly.

Scicluna also pointed out the measures undertaken by Agenzija Sapport to safeguard users of its services. Precautionary measures related to residential homes run by Agenzija Sapport and NGOs were all coordinated by the Social Care Standards Authority, also in consultation with the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD). Such measures include the suspension of visits from relatives in residential homes, now being replaced with communication through technology. Also the suspension of outings and social work interventions are being provided online or over the phone except in situations of emergency. “Staff working in these residential homes are being monitored for high temperatures three times a day, protective gear for front liners has also been provided,” said Scicluna

Sign language interpretations including in national press briefings for more inclusion

Scicluna said that the CRPD, together with the Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly and Persons with Disability, the Malta Deaf Association and the Sign Language Council has pushed for sign language interpretations in press briefings. “Thanks to the full cooperation of all entities involved, Agenzija Sapport, the Sign Language Interpreters, ODPM and Office of the Prime Minister, we are managing to have this press briefings accessible via a Maltese Sign Language interpreter.” He said that due to logistical issues, subtitling is not available yet.

Scicluna said that on 16 March, the Ministry for Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity had launched a helpline to support the elderly and disabled people living in the community. This service provides delivered groceries and ready cooked food for those vulnerable people, and can provide assistance to buy or deliver medication. A special email address has been created by CRPD so that the service is also accessible to deaf people ([email protected])

“At this moment it is crucial for information being provided to the general public to be fully accessible to as many people as possible, since the more one is aware about what is happening and what precautions to take, the easier it is for our country to fight this virus,” said Scicluna.

He stressed the importance of listening to official information provided by the Health Authorities and not information from third parties. “It is always important to, when one has a query of some sort, get in touch with the helplines provided by the authorities which are dedicated to COVID-19. Agenzija Sapport and the CRPD are currently working hand-in-hand with the government to mitigate the current situation,” he said.

“During these depressing times, it is important to speak out and not feel abandoned. The general public can help by at least trying to phone or else communicate through social media with those disabled people and elderly persons who live alone, just to have a small chat and check up on them. We are here for one another.”

CRPD is playing an important role in this as it has always been the entity which safeguards the rights of disabled people. Whilst working under a lot of pressure and behind closed doors, CRPD is still there to listen to people concerns and provide support. “It is very important to stay home and keep physical distance if one needs to go out. Last but not least, I would like to urge and NGOs and DPOs to keep in touch with CRPD since their input is crucial in providing us with the bigger picture of what is happening out there. Now is the time to show that the disability sector is united and up for the challenge.”

 

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