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As part of our new TPI Viewpoints series, we are delighted to share this blog from Lucy Robinson, an internationally-recognised disability rights advocate who empowers people with disabilities through setting up and establishing support services, and as a trainer, mentor and public speaker. Lucy has worked and travelled extensively in Asia and sub-saharan Africa, seeing first-hand the issues facing people with disabilities including in rural areas. She has also founded and runs Vitality, an NGO that works with international partners to support people with spinal cord injuries in developing countries. Alongside this, she runs The Back Up Trust vocational service to empower people with spinal cord injury to get into work and other meaningful activities.

There is a lot of energy thinking about a post lockdown world, where we learn to live alongside COVID-19. There is a particularly exciting focus on ‘Build Back Better’, which is an approach to post-disaster recovery aimed at increasing the resilience of our communities to what the future might bring us next. I believe we have to look at what this virus has shown us if we want to do this properly.

Through the preexisting inequalities in society, we have seen that deprived communities are more likely to be affected by both the virus in terms of higher infection and death rates but also in terms of poverty. This includes people with disabilities. People with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, less likely to have access to education and less likely to be employed the world over. This is because of a lack of resources but also discrimination.

I witnessed one example of how this manifested during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic response; in early March, the United Kingdom (UK) National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) gave advice that UK National Health Service (NHS) medics should assess patients with conditions such as learning disabilities and autism as scoring high for “frailty”. This included anyone who was dependent for personal care, from whatever cause scoring seven (those scoring higher than five were said to have uncertainty around the benefits of critical care). Thankfully they changed this advice a week later . So, whilst the virus might not discriminate, humans do.

In a business disability forum event I attended recently about opening workplaces post-lockdown, I heard someone mention they had been challenged in reintegrating employees with disabilities, as the company needed to prioritise essential workers. They had forgotten that some of their essential employees may also have disabilities.

We need solutions that don’t patch over the problems but develop lasting solutions. 

If we want partnerships that will create real change, we need everyone who is at the table, every partner, to truly understand equality. We first need to start with ourselves. It’s not just discrimination we need to challenge but unconscious bias. Society has given us beliefs that we have within ourselves that we need to challenge and change, so we don’t continue the cycle and status quo. 

When we look at ‘Building Back Better’, we need to take the experiences of people with disabilities into consideration. In education, employment, food systems, the economy, healthcare, in everything. We will face a global recession but let’s ensure that everyone has their needs and quality of life accounted for.

I believe we can build societies that are inclusive, fair and prosperous and what better time to start than now. 

For more information about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on partnering, read the “Fighting side-by-side against COVID-19” think-piece by our Executive Director, Darian Stibbe.

If you would like to contribute to our new TPI Viewpoints series, contact us at info@thepartneringinitiative.org with TPI Viewpoint in the subject line.

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Julia Gilbert Senior Programme Manager and Knowledge Lead

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