In this time of crisis, it is easy to be convinced by the Governments’ messaging that the most important priority is the health of wider society, the protection of health care workers and the sustainability of the economy. ENIL Youth Network see these priorities as necessary to solve this crisis but what we cannot accept is when the arguments and practices have a detrimental impact on the lives and the rights of persons with disabilities. The disability movement, and our supporters, need to stand united and raise our voices so that disabled people do not face the greatest consequences of this situation. Today, on the 5th of May, the European Independent Living Day, the ENIL Youth Network wants to push for, and prioritise, everyone’s right to liberty and empowerment in a time of crisis, as well as what may come afterwards.

Society is currently facing a world in which most of us are isolated in our homes. The situation is temporary and most people will eventually be able to return to the life they had before quarantine.

For many disabled people this situation isn’t anything new. Isolation is already part of our every day. For those of us who need, but lack, access to individual support services, peer support and wider accessibility we live a life full of restrictions and an ever-worsening quality of life. The difference is that it is not a virus that prevents us from living our lives, but rather an authority or a municipality that removes our opportunities for empowerment and participation in society. Without the access to support services based on individual needs and life choices, for example through personal assistance, we are put into involuntary quarantine-like isolation for 24 hours a day. Spending our lives confined to institutions or our homes.

Politicians in power could use our collective situation as an opportunity to reflect on how living in isolation, or restricted from pursuing everyday life, has an impact on all people. Politicians, society as a whole and the disability movement should be asking, “Is this the kind of society we want to be living in, where someone can be isolated by circumstances outside of their control?”

In times of crisis, ENIL Youth Network observes that there is a risk that support services for people with disabilities may be subject to restrictions, and cut, as communities run the risk of financial collapse. By eliminating or reducing support services that are responsive to the needs of disabled people, such as personal assistance, we can neither follow the recommendations nor maintain our health. The reality is that we become more dependent on hospital care or our friends and relatives. In a worst case scenario we die. Without support services people become unable to work, study or be active citizens, which in the long run will lead to a great loss for society as a whole.

We all have a communal obligation to reduce the spread of infection and to follow the recommendations of the authorities. Our authorities’ and governments’ obligation is to still guarantee our rights according to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD. In spite of a crisis such as Covid-19, we still have the right to empowerment and autonomy. We still have the right to liberty. To decide how to live our lives. Hopefully the current situation can inspire all of us to take actions in the interest of a  future society where everyone’s right to liberty and empowerment is fulfilled.

The ENIL Youth Network Board

Fatma Bulic
Naomi Doevendans
Nora Eklov
Miroslava Ivanovic
Marijeta Mojasevic
Charlie Willis