Supporting individuals with learning disabilities

Harriet Evans on welcoming those with learning disabilities back into the community after lockdown.

There are many ways that individuals with a learning disability have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, some of which were highlighted in a piece by Paul Moloney, David Dobel-Ober and Sarah Millichap. Many of these inequalities have subsequently meant many of those with a learning disability have been socially isolated for a continuous, extended period of time compared to their counterparts in the general population who have had periods in and out of lockdown restrictions. For example, in Wales, those residing in supported tenancies were ‘locked down’ to the same extent as care homes, meaning many have not been able to have indoor visitors for over a year. Additionally, many day services in Wales have remained closed since the initial lockdown in March 2020. These environments often hold great importance to those who attend them as they provide meaningful occupation and the opportunity for social engagement with peers and friends.

This longstanding absence from the community has understandably meant that the thought of returning to ‘normal life’ can feel anxiety provoking and overwhelming to some individuals with a learning disability. What can be done to support this transition back into community life? I offer some suggestions. 

Preparation is important. Individuals need support to know what to expect in community spaces. New skills, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, can be practised with individuals beforehand. 

We should allow individuals to go at their own pace, and respect that a lot has changed in the last year. It may take time for individuals to feel comfortable and safe with the easing of restrictions due to loss of confidence or skills. It is likely that their routine has been disturbed and their needs may have changed since the pandemic. 

As a society we also need to be accepting of reasonable adjustments. We have seen a national acceptance of hidden disabilities and exemption from mask wearing during the pandemic, and other reasonable adjustments should have the same acceptance. For example, accepting cash rather than card/contactless payments, as many people who have a learning disability do not have the resources or the understanding of how this works. 

With this in mind, I look forward to welcoming those with a learning disability and all they offer back into the community. I maintain optimism that considerations will be made to ensure the inequalities those with learning disabilities have faced during this pandemic will not be repeated in the future. 

- Harriet Evans, Assistant Psychologist, Powys Teaching Health Board

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