ICTU Disability Committee Stresses Importance of including People with Disablities in COVID-19 Response

11 May 2020


The Irish Congress of Trade Unions Disability Committee met online recently to discuss the importance of the inclusion of people with disabilities in the COVID-19 responses related to the World of Work. 

The meeting highlighted the need to continue to combat prejudice and encourage inclusivity among Workers with Disabilities.   The crisis lays bare the inequalities exacerbating COVID-19’s impact on persons with disabilities and the Committee stressed that we must be vigilant in ensuring that the response to the current crisis does not leave persons with disabilities behind once again.

The Committee agreed to sign up to a joint statement by a number of civil society and human rights groups in Ireland, calling on all state actors to adhere to their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which Ireland ratified in March 2018. While the current pandemic is impacting on all members of society the UN Rapporteur on Disability has identified persons with disabilities as vulnerable during this global health pandemic and outlines a number of issues to be addressed..

The Committee also acknowledged the commitment and creative response of frontline staff providing services to people with disabilities, including teachers, special needs assistants and nurses. Many Disability services have spent the last number of weeks planning and ensuring preparedness for Covid-19, adhering to NPHET guidelines, and including the initiatives reflective of work being done and completed across the ID sector in nurse led services listed below.

It was noted that Economic and social policies to date have focused excessively on fiscal discipline rather than on public investment in health and care, this crisis clearly showing that this was to the detriment of people in general and people with disabilities in particular. The austerity approach after the financial crisis hit hard on healthcare staff  who we are now praising and applauding every day.  Also, such an approach has had consequent impact on the quality and the coverage of the essential services provided to people. Following the 2008 financial crisis, disability services were among the first to be cut and the Committee were adamant that such austerity has no place in the recovery period post COVID-19.

With an overall unemployment rate of 28.2% just announced, the challenges facing people with disabilities in gaining decent work into the future will be exacerbated greatly.  People with disabilities who had managed to enter a job will now be extremely anxious about what the future holds for them. People with disabilities must not be left behind when economic recovery begins.

The Committee also wished to highlight that facilitating flexible work, including work from home could be an opportunity as it often ties in with the needs of people with disabilities. Such flexible working solutions can foster participation in the labour force. Such solutions are increasingly a priority from a range of perspectives, from sustainability and positive environmental impacts, to increasing participation amongst women, older people and people with disabilities. The inequalities faced by such groups in the labour market can be explained by the many barriers that exist to their full participation in the workplace – including an absence of the real flexibility in many organisations that would enable people to realise their professional potential.

While the COVID-19 crisis is new, requiring us all to act, interact and communicate in different ways, the good news is that we already know what works. Fundamentally, we need social justice, effective inclusion, equality of opportunities and decent work. To advance social justice and meaningfully include persons with disabilities, we need to be innovative and bold – and we must together - during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.


Nurse led ID sector initiatives

  • COVID-19 Guidance is now available for staff and carers who provide services to people with disabilities. This guidance will ensure that staff and carers are fully aware of the steps they need to take during the outbreak.  
  • Community Isolation units have been set up  and nursing staff made available, medical support and palliative care support links all in place  in the event of a covid 19 outbreak , PPE gear now more accessible .
  • There are plans in progress by Shaping  the Future  of Intellectual Disability group to set up nursing teams to assist services with no nursing personnel proving advise and expertise . ( this is almost complete )
  • The key symptoms of covid have been highlighted to all staff and the unusual types of presentations
  • Pathways to medical care and if necessary hospital are planned and specific covid hse hospital passport completed for all .
  • Any necessary staff training has been completed in many services such as infection control, palliative care and also activities that can be done at home ,free webinars on all aspects
  • Many nursing staff and others are now busy carrying out testing in their respective services
  • Services have been reduced to allow for effective cocooning in residential homes.
  • Risk assessments have been completed across services to identify the most vulnerable
  • Easy read documents and social stories have been used to community with residents
  • Those identified as needing assistance during the lock down have been  provided day service / respite / outreach where possible / touch base over phone

For further information contact:  David Joyce, ICTU Equality Officer on 087 2260213