By Lydia O’Kane
Around the world millions of people are continuing to live under restrictions due to the Covid-19 virus. For many, being at home for the major part of the day is something they have not experienced before.
But for others, including those living with a disability, isolation and exclusion are not the exceptions to the rule.
Cristina Gangemi is Director of the Kairos Forum, which serves to highlight and respond to the needs of people who have been disabled, as well as provide awareness.
She spoke to Vatican Radio about the challenges those with disabilities and their families are facing, and for those who can’t get access to services at this time.
“We’re being given a taste of life as lived by creative learners; an experience of being socially isolated… so in some ways the whole world has been disabled from what they’re used to doing, but enabled to think of things differently”, she said.
Challenges amid Covid-19
Cristina noted that “some of those with an intellectual disability go to special schools, and all of a sudden their routine, which is vitally important, is completely broken, and they’re having to stay at home.”
The Kairos Director pointed out that, “for people who are on the spectrum of autism, a lot of parents are really struggling because they’re not able go outside and this is causing heightened difficulties.”
For a person living with autism, “for them it’s very, very difficult because actually understanding why they cannot follow their routine can be quite challenging”, she said.
Cristina underlined that one of the biggest challenges at this time of lockdown is to help them understand that remaining at home is not a punishment, but for their own benefit.
As people continue to adhere to strict social isolation measures in a bid to halt the coronavirus, the internet and social media have both become a lifeline for information. Dioceses and Parishes are also using these tools to communicate with their flock.
Creating a SPACE
But what is out there in the way of Church resources for people with intellectual disabilities during this pandemic? Cristina stressed there is practically nothing out there, and there is a lack of funding for development, which is why she took a section of her own website, and developed it as an area for prayer and reflection.
Aptly called SPACE (Sacred Place for Accessible Communication and Empathy), it is aiming to provide online resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families. Resources are set to include small prayer films, sharing stories and accompaniment across the world.
During this Holy Week as Christians contemplate the events of Christ’s pain and agony during His last hours, Cristina is hoping that people will not forget the voice of those with disabilities who are among the most vulnerable to this virus.