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Disability Sheffield Charity adapts to make a difference

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Credit: Sheffield Cycling 4 All.

The outbreak of COVID-19 is challenging us in ways we never expected. We are all taking steps to control the outbreak and adapt to this new kind of life, but one group faces additional challenges, obstacles and anxieties: people with disabilities.

In the midst of the pandemic, those who live with a disability are essentially at a double disadvantage. Alongside the threat of the virus, services they rely on are unable to go ahead, their independence is taken away and they struggle to follow a routine that keeps them active and healthy.

Disability Sheffield have been forced to alter the way they operate during this pandemic. As well as providing emergency care support and PPE to stop the spread of the virus, the team are now "working from home and connecting with people who use our service via Zoom meetings and telephone," Kathryn from Disability Sheffield told me.

Online video platforms are proving invaluable in that they allow a constant stream of information and support that is vital to the wellbeing of people with disabilities. But sadly this doesn't include all who need it. "The downside of lockdown is that there are many people who are digitally excluded and it is those people who we are concerned the most for," Kathryn said.

[Virtual meetings are] an essential step towards regaining [health and independence]

It's clear the level of anxiety and unease these people are faced with in understanding the severity of the current situation. Many are without much connection to the outside world and are even more stressed by the complicated messages coming from the government. For those who struggle with technical equipment or simply don't have access to any, it's a time of very real isolation.

The team at Disability Sheffield have been working hard to supply phones, data packages and technical support so that clients can participate in coffee mornings and wider meetings being coordinated across the country. These virtual meetings are providing a lifeline for people with a range of disabilities. As Covid-19 threatens not only their health but their independence, this format is an essential step towards regaining both.

The charity are also creating weekly films capturing disabled people's experiences with Covid-19, which are available to watch on their Youtube channel. By doing this, they have created a platform to share their concerns, receive support from others going through the same thing, and, critically, rebuild confidence.

a life-changing difference to those who need it most

Sheffield Cycling 4 All, a Disability Sheffield project, gives people with disabilities the opportunity to ride a range of adapted trikes in the safe surroundings of Hillsborough Park. As it isn't currently safe to be in the park, the team are working to ensure that people still stay active during lockdown.

Thanks to funding from Sport England and an online fundraiser organised by Vibrations, they are able to provide equipment such as yoga mats, stretch bands, exercise balls and dumbbells, as well as holding a weekly Move & Chat inclusive exercise class - all with the aim of keeping both their bodies and their minds active whilst it isn't safe for them to be out and about.

It goes without saying that the work of Disability Sheffield and Sheffield Cycling 4 All is making a life-changing difference to those who need it most.

This is a challenging and daunting time, but it has the potential to add a new, long-lasting perspective to disability services. Virtual platforms have the ability to include a wider cross-section of people across the country and start conversations which might not otherwise have happened. This experience will surely change the way these services are delivered for years to come.

Mollie Bland

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