New research has revealed Covid’s negative impact on the mental health of people with disabilities, with many people also reporting that they have felt more lonely and unsafe in the past year.
The latest research study, conducted by OSS Research Advisor Gayle McPherson, from the University of the West of Scotland, in partnership with researchers from Western University, Canada, investigated the effects that the Covid-19 lockdown has had on people with disabilities. It also revealed an increase in creativity among disabled people in finding ways to exercise.
Due to the ongoing covid-19 restrictions currently in place over the whole of Scotland, we have seen all sport, leisure and culture facilities shut their doors. This has affected the whole of the population, however this research investigated how it has affected people with disabilities, people who have been previously been shown to already have less availability and increased barriers to performing physical activity. This recent research involved forming 6 focus groups, comprising of 24 participants from all levels of disabled sport, from both Scotland and Canada.
Participants were provided with a list of questions prior to the focus groups. These questions asked about their physical activity prior to Covid-19 lockdown, how the lockdown had impacted on that activity, and what helped to allow the participants to exercise and take part in activity at home. The questions also asked how the participants had been affected in other ways, for example, socially, economically and culturally, as well as how they were feeling about the easing of restrictions.
The qualitative research provided significant insight into how the lives of people with disabilities have changed and the challenges they have faced. A number of participants spoke of how their mental health and wellbeing had been negatively impacted, and how they have suffered increased feelings of loneliness by being unable to socialise and exercise, and being stuck at home. As previous research (Statistics Canada, 2020) had shown that a significant number of people with disabilities live on their own, whilst a study by Tarvainen (2020) found that in a high number of cases of people with disabilities, they relate loneliness to social and body differences. The concern around the onset of loneliness experienced by this group did prove to be a substantial worry. The research also showed that since the start of the pandemic, people with disabilities felt that their safety when outside has been severely diminished, and that disabilities had been spotlighted through having to go the extra mile when trying to socially distance from others, or to wear a face covering.
However, a majority of the participants spoke of how the restrictions have allowed them to become more creative in finding ways to exercise and remain in contact with friends at home. The participants talked about how they felt the desire to make the best out of a bad situation, and would try to use the lockdown and restrictions to continue to train and remain active.
This research provides important evidence from people with disabilities, on how their lives have been changed due to lockdowns and restrictions, and it aims to inform those in government and policy makers on the support that is needed to aid people with disabilities when they face these challenges as we move to different levels of restrictions and access of services for everyone.
The OSS is conducting a major research project into disability sport in Scotland, supported by the Peter Harrison Foundation. If you would be interesting in finding out more about this research, or would like to support other OSS research, please get in touch with CEO David Ferguson – firstname.lastname@example.org.