'We're the forgotten ones': Disabled people and carers share experiences during pandemic

Watch the full video report by Kate Lewis

A number of disabled people in Wales say they are being "left out of the conversation" about the impact of the pandemic.

The pandemic has meant that thousands of people have been unable to work as normal. The latest figures show on 28 February 2021, 175,200 people in Wales were furloughed.

Additionally, the Labour Force Survey data (September to November 2020) shows the continued impact of coronavirus on Wales' workforce. There were 16,000 redundancies in Wales. This is the highest redundancy level in the country since records began in 2009.

But for disabled people like Daniel Biddle, the barriers around getting into work were an issue long before the pandemic.

Mr Biddle became disabled at the age of 26. He is one of the worst-injured survivors of the 7/7 London bombings.

He said: "I was stood next to the guy that had the bomb as the train pulled out of the station. We stared at each other for a few seconds then he reached into the bag. I got blown out of the train... I didn’t know what happened at first then I realised I was on fire. My left leg had been blown clean off and my right leg had been shattered. 

"I had to totally rebuild my life from scratch."

Daniel Biddle survived the 7/7 terror attack Credit: Daniel Biddle

Mr Biddle said he was "blissfully ignorant about disability" before becoming disabled himself.

He said: "We’re deemed less useful to society because of our disability and it’s harder to find work... I had a long period of not working.

"The issue around disability hate crime is very prominent. The lack of awareness around disability is staggering - It’s almost an acceptable face of discrimination."

Mr Biddle is now 42 years old and lives in Abergavenny.

"This year I got a job with a disability organisation, Legacy International Group, in Merthyr Tydfil, which helps other disabled people find work.

"I think the aspirations of disabled workers are never usually factored in. There’s a lot of talent in disabled people out there who aren’t given the opportunity because of their disability."

Mr Biddle said an issue for many disabled people is they will have good and bad days and during some hours of the day they may not be able to work. He said this is something that many employers have struggled to understand. But Mr Biddle said now the pandemic has shown that people do not have to do a nine to five job and work in an office.

"I suffer from complex PTSD. I can wake up on a Monday morning and feel fine but go to bed that night but have a night full of night terrors and flashbacks. It doesn’t prevent me from working. I might not be able to function for 80% of the day but at 6pm I could work from then.

"Disabled people can work remotely. Does it matter whether they’re doing it at 10am or 10pm? Organisations need to make adjustments to people's conditions - you’ll still get the same productivity but at different times of the day."

Mr Biddle has only been able to leave the house around 10 times in the past year because of shielding. The only times he was able to go out was for doctors appointments, a couple of drives and to get his Covid vaccinations.

He said the experience brought back memories of when he was in hospital for a year following the terror attack.

Tomorrow, for the first time since the pandemic, Mr Biddle will be returning to his office to work.

"I am very excited to go back to the office.

"I want to do everything I can do make employment, education and social activities accessible to people - for anyone who’s born with a disability or lives with one.

"I’m now living my life not just existing through it."

While the lockdown has been easing, Margaret Baron said there are further barriers that prevent her and some other disabled people from taking part in outdoor activities.

The 75-year-old from Milford Haven said: "People aren’t stressing that disabled people can’t necessarily enjoy outdoor hospitality. We have been missing out. There’s been nothing for us to do. 

"I’m waiting for indoor hospitality because I can’t use a wooden picnic table outside. I can’t travel anywhere until we are able to eat meals in hotels so we’re in limbo land. We’re the forgotten ones."

Mrs Baron said transport was an issue for her before the pandemic but it has now "become even worse".

She and her friend Rex Codd, 73, both use wheelchairs. They said there are only two taxi firms in their area which they are able to use.

Mrs Baron said: "It’s been challenging but I can with difficulty get in an ordinary taxi but for Mr Codd he’s hardly been able to go out anywhere because he can’t use his legs at all."

Friends Margaret Baron and Rex Codd said there is a lack of accessible transport Credit: Margaret Baron

New data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that disabled adults experienced depression (39%) at a rate three times greater than non-disabled people (13%) during the third lockdown. Clinically extremely vulnerable adults were also more likely to experience depression (31%) than non-CEV adults (20%).

For support with mental health issues you can contact the following helplines.

Although the borders have now opened to allow travel within the UK, Mrs Baron has not yet been able to see her relatives.

"My family are in Scotland so I knew there was no chance of seeing them. Until the hotels are allowed to have food indoors I can’t go up there. We have to do it in three stages cause it’s too far for me to travel.

"Mr Codd has also been unable to see his family."

Mrs Baron said she and Mr Codd face a number of physical barriers to going out - including a "lack of drop curbs", which means having to avoid using certain streets, and inaccessible entrances to buildings.

In addition, she said they are often met with discriminatory remarks.

She said: "We both face discrimination and find people talk over us, they don’t talk to us they talk to others who are with us.

"People need to put themselves in the same position and seeing what it’s like, I feel like strapping them into a wheelchair for a day and seeing what they feel like when people ask unsolicited questions."

Three-year-old Freya experiences more freedom with her prosthetic leg blades Credit: Danielle Gibbs

The issue of discrimination is something that also concerns Danielle Gibbs. She is a retail manager and mother of two daughters, Olivia and Freya.

Freya is three years old and was born with tibial hemimelia. It's a rare condition where children are born with partial or total absence of the shinbone.

At 17 months old, Freya had a double leg amputation through the knee. 

Her mother said: "We experienced barriers a lot more before she had her amputations, her legs were bent inwards and didn’t move the bottom half of them.

"People stared at her when we went swimming. People still stare now - it’s adults mainly. The kids think it’s amazing and they ask what’s happened to Freya’s legs. But adults are not accepting - I don’t know if it’s through ignorance or lack of knowledge. She’s so young at the moment so it’s ok but I dread secondary school."

The family live in a village in Carmarthenshire.

Mrs Gibbs said: "We live in a small community so she won’t feel it as much probably as if we lived in a city and went to a massive school.

"In our village everyone’s been amazing."

Freya and Olivia live in a small village in Carmarthenshire Credit: Danielle Gibbs

The organisation Limb Power has supported Freya and her family.

Carly Bauert is a children and family officer with the organisation. She also has a son with a congenital limb difference.

She said: "Discrimination coming up so strongly at the moment. We’re finding mums are coming to us saying, 'I’d forgotten about people coming up and saying where’s your arm? Where’s your leg? Not very kindly.'

"During Covid people weren’t going out so it’s been a bit of shock now seeing more people asking these kinds of questions, they’d forgotten how bad it was.

"We’d like to see education in society. Some people would prefer you to ask but a lot of children and adults find it incredibly offensive and they feel singled out... My son spent a year in a wheelchair and nobody spoke to him, they only spoke to me. This is also not ok.

"We’d like more than anything for people to know there is support."