Disability service closures have had major impact

Anxiety and loneliness have increased
  • Deborah Condon

The closure of disability day services during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a hugely negative impact on people with intellectual disabilities, a new report has revealed.

According to Inclusion Ireland, the national association for people with an intellectual disability, people with disabilities and their families "are seeing Ireland reopening, and feel they are being left behind".

It carried out a survey in June of people with disabilities and their families to ascertain what type of services and supports they had received during the lockdown.

Prior to the lockdown, 79% of the respondents normally attended day services five days per week, 13% attended three to four days, while 8% attended one or two days.

Half said they had received little or no contact or support from day services during the lockdown period, with some people saying they only got a few phone calls or text messages.

Some services sent out activity packs and held meetings by Zoom. However most people found it difficult to use computers or smartphones without support, while some had no access to such devices or no internet connection.

"Day services have been closed for more than three months now and 54% of people with disabilities have had little or no meaningful contact from their service that supports them. Others have had some telephone support, virtual supports and a small number have had personal contact from staff," explained Inclusion Ireland CEO, Enda Egan.

He said that these closure have had a "significant impact", with many people reporting feelings of anxiety and loneliness, while others were angry and did not understand what was happening. Challenging behaviour had increased.

Many missed having a plan for how they would spend the day and just two in 10 said they felt happy to be at home. Many really wanted to meet their friends and spend some time at their day centre.

While most people wanted their day service to open up again, half were worried that COVID-19 might spread there, and many acknowledged that it would be difficult for some people to socially distance.

Respondents to the survey wanted clear information from their day services. They wanted to know that supports they would get, when they would get them and how their centre would be made safe.

Meanwhile, Mr Egan emphasised that for those with the most complex needs, "any kind of virtual support does not work".

"They need to have previous service levels reinstated as a matter of priority, within public health guidelines. People with disabilities and their families are seeing Ireland reopening and feel they are being left behind, despite HSE guidance issued to service providers this week.

"The HSE guidance is non-committal on timelines and indicated that some day service staff, who have been redeployed to other services, will not return immediately to day services, thus reducing day service capacity. This reinforces our concerns that people with intellectual disabilities will return to a greatly reduced service, placing further untold pressure on them and their families," he said.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
-The re-opening of day services, with equality of access
-Full restoration of services and supports
-Funding for COVID-19 adaptations to ensure that people can attend for full weeks
-Access to therapy and respite.

"Inclusion Ireland will continue to support people with intellectual disabilities and their families through our support helpline - 0818 55 9891. If people need support or direction, they can call this number," Mr Egan added.

The report on the impact of the closure of day services can be viewed here.


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