• Philip J Connolly

Catalysing Reactions for Seismic Change

Covid-19: Were the consequences avoidable and will the aftermath benefit from what you the readers know and do?

“A stitch in time saves nine” said the Prime Minister on the 22nd September 2020 but each unseemly crisis point of the pandemic saw society unravel, until the mass vaccination began. For disabled people, the decisions being made on time mattered. For each poor or delayed decision thousands of lives ended prematurely. The inquiry into the pandemic must therefore examine the stream of policy failures but it must also find out how the failures could have been avoided. Dr Mark Ryan, head of the emergency programme of the WHO said on the 29th of December, 2020 that we have had the equivalent of a tremor, there is still the possibility of an earthquake sized disease to come. If the WHO are right we will need to learn quickly. As a reader, member or possible member of the Disability Resilience Network please work with me to submit our evidence to the inquiry. First please allow me to jog your memory.

Do you remember how long it took for advice to become an instruction except to tell people not to go on cruise liners (12/03/20)? Do you recall the hospitals discharging their patients into the care homes without knowing their infection rates? In March testing had almost stopped so the WHO felt compelled to warn of the consequences of not knowing the scale or location of the outbreak. Where was the missing PPE: 32 million items in 2009 not enough in April 2020? The track and trace contract with Serco that was so low in its returns that it scuppered the use of local lockdowns. Shielding for those at most risk whilst that risk continued with borders remaining open even to countries like the US or even for those looking for a holiday in the sun. Why did it take so long to identify the tipping points of schools being closed, universities remaining open or the confusion of knowing whether we could sit an exam when scenario planning for a resilient society would have told us the answers?

We have a brilliant civil service but it operates in a system designed to avoid making decisions. The green paper on social care for example has been promised at least six times but is still awaited. These delays are costly because they allowed more time for the virus to mutate and for the vaccine to possibly become less effective. We will all pay a price for this but disabled people have already paid an unacceptably heavy price, they can be found listed on two out of every three Covid-19 death certificates.

What gave rise to these crisis points was not normal so how or why should we return to it. The public inquiry must answer these questions in the context of what makes us both collectively and individually more resilient.

Of course the Government is not waiting for a public inquiry to enact future policy and nor will anyone else. There are funding programmes in the pipeline that we need to influence. Firstly the “Levelling up” fund of £4 billion targeted at reducing or eradicating regional disparities and likely to be spent in the north of England. Secondly the “Shared Prosperity” fund set to replace European funding (ESF and ERDF in particular) and likely to be in the order of £2.1 billion per annum. The latter was important to disabled people needing to acquire skills to enter the labour market, some 80,000 disabled people were on training courses or programmes funded by the European Social Fund. The “Levelling up” fund is likely to be spent on transport infrastructure though places of cultural interest such as galleries and museums are also likely to benefit. None of which is likely to bring much cheer to a disabled unemployed person living in the south of England. So I started thinking: could we build infrastructure in ways that favour disabled people’s job prospects and of course social value now permits this but also is there some kind of infrastructure that is specific to resolving disabled people needs? The most obvious pan disability answer is the needs for information. Many disabilities make obtaining or processing information challenging. So could the provision of infrastructure directly address this challenge? Since the provision of broadband is itself considered an infrastructure project then the answer has to be – possibly yes. Can infrastructure be personalised. Again yes, why not.

There is growing interest and investment in smart technology that offers individual solutions to individual needs e.g. micromobility, the internet of things etc. Knowledge banks like Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant are able to offer tailored solutions to tailored questions. These can be specific to certain challenges e.g. appropedia is a “how to do” response to environmental challenges but could also provide a template for a virtual assistant that responds to the myriad of information challenges arising from having a disability.

Infrastructure is often intended to catalyse the creation of jobs. Governments are catalysts too. I remember one catalyst, some glass beads, being described by my chemistry teacher as anti-bumping granules. The Government could be this type of catalyst; not getting in the way of people with ingenuity and creativity but instead facilitating collaboration, not subsidising either the buyer or the seller but catalysing the formation of new marketplaces both real and virtual. In doing so it could use resources as efficiently as those recycled glass beads. It could create enduring exchanges that enable many of the most disadvantaged people in the UK to turn their creativity into an income or simply make dependable friends.

Disabled people are only likely to become involved in exchanges if these exchanges connect them, they have some control over the exchange, it serves their needs and it is both accessible and affordable. I have been working to build an exchange platform that would allow these objectives to be met. A place where disabled people can upload their audio and video diaries and share their knowledge and insights to form a peer to peer learning community. So far I have been involved in building two prototypes but I need to build more. It’s like making 2 up when you know that 7 is where you need to get to. Is this something you can collaborate with me on? Can you become an investor, a technician, a coder, a content designer, a film maker or above all a contributor of your own learning? Could we put the evidence of our learning (as disabled people) in response to the pandemic on this platform? YES!

Join the Disability Resilience Network and see possibilities.

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