Our Chief Executive, Lesslie Young looks at the restrictions affecting university students and how people with learning disabilities have been living through this for the last six months and more.
The pandemic has meant everyone has had to adapt their lives in ways which would have been unimaginable a year ago. But some much more than others.
There is a large group being subjected to much greater changes and tighter restrictions due to their personal circumstances. The result is not simply adaptations to their lives but a degree of change the rest of us would find completely unacceptable and would rail against.
Right from the beginning of the pandemic, thousands across the country were told to shield away from society and not leave their homes for fear of the consequences.
Schools closed, with many children missing out on a proper education. Those living in social care settings could not, and still in many cases, see their loved ones.
This disparity in treatment has shaped people’s experiences of the pandemic, with many saying the tighter restrictions have impacted their mental health.
This broad-brush restrictive approach to certain sections of society has come to the fore over the last couple of weeks with students in university accommodation.
Despite COVID case numbers rising, students were welcomed to shared accommodation facilities to develop new households with their fellow students.
Unsurprisingly, this caused a significant cluster of cases in these settings. Thousands are now self-isolating in their residences with many reporting significant impacts to their mental health.
Students and their families are rightly outraged and concerned about the lack of planning for this eventuality. Through pressure from students and their families, the Scottish Government have now issued guidance advising that students can return home to finish their self-isolation.
Two ends of the intellectual spectrum
The experience of the university students is exactly the one which many with learning disabilities have been living through for the last six months and more.
Situationally, these are two comparable groups of young adults. Both are paying for their accommodation and a service through client contributions in social care or university fees.
One group has had provisions made to make their situation better whilst the other continues to be ignored and forgotten.
It is not hard to guess it is those with intellectual disabilities who have been side-lined throughout this process. Pushed to the periphery again. Why?
The university students’ intellectual advantage has afforded them a voice which has been listened to by those who make decisions. People living in social care with a learning disability often have a small voice.
But with regular multi-disciplinary reviews put on hold indefinitely there is no formal platform for those who speak on their behalf to voice their concerns. As a result, the impact of the restrictions and how they are affecting them individually is not heard. Why?
For many, their lives have changed beyond recognition. Their social groups, key for their social development, have been cancelled for months. They are burdened with extra restrictions.
Also, they are not being allowed to go to the shops, to the chemist to pick up their prescriptions and other day to day tasks which in themselves provide education and which we have already started to take for granted again.
They are socially isolated to an extent that borders on the cruel or may well cross that border. Many have not seen their family, those who know and understand them best, since the start of the pandemic.
Review into treatment of people with learning disabilities
I understand the outrage at the lack of planning for students, exposing them to a known risk and making them isolate as a result. A fully functioning society listens to and respects the voices of everyone, no matter their intellectual calibre.
Yet, people with learning disabilities have been suffering this for months and still their experience and limited voice is not being heard or respected in the same way. Why?
As we rapidly head towards flu season with probable spikes in COVID cases, I urge the Scottish Government and local authorities to conduct a review of their treatment of people with learning disabilities and address this obvious inequality.
Not to do so would be a clear illustration of the lack of value placed on those who have a desire to learn but are not being given the opportunity simply because they sit at the opposite end of the learning spectrum from those vocal university students and cannot shout loud enough to be heard.