From the November-December 2021 issue of News & Letters
by Tim Finningan
Twelve UK disability rights organizations are opposing an inhuman “assisted suicide” bill currently being debated in the House of Lords. They are calling instead for the right to live independently, as well as correcting the distorted ideas too many have of the quality and potential of disabled people’s lives. Activist Ernest Bow of Not Dead Yet UK said, “It is a very dangerous bill that does not respect disabled people and their lives.” Activist Simone Aspis said, “The focus needs to be on supporting disabled people’s right to live independently and have assistance with living right up to the day that somebody dies.” Anna Pridmore, of the British Council for Disabled People, stated the bottom line concern about all such inhuman laws is that they can “rule us out because we cost too much.”
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Low pay, long hours (sometimes 60-80 per week), and a tight job market have created staffing problems for many agencies that provide care for people with disabilities and the elderly. One Maine caregiver told a state government panel, “Despite having 25 years’ experience, I am paid less than an entry level worker at a fast food restaurant. The message sent to us is clear: The work we do and the people we serve are not of value.”
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A report by Ireland’s National Advocacy Services for People with Disabilities has shown the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on the mental health and well-being of those served by government-funded caregiver agencies.
Many agencies closed down completely, while others cut back on services, in order to meet social distancing guidelines. This has led to growing feelings of isolation among people who need these agencies, as well as forcing many to depend on often already overworked family members for full-time care and transportation to medical appointments.
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Afghan disability rights activists have testified to the danger of the Taliban’s rise to power. Blind activist Benafsha Yaqoobi, who was airlifted to the UK, told The Guardian, “There are many people with disabilities there without support, without food, clothes, education, or basic human rights. We must raise their voices.” Nilafor Bayat, now in Bilbao, Spain, said, “I was the captain of the national women’s wheelchair basketball team. I had a job helping people with disabilities. I studied law. I worked hard for all that, and then the Taliban took all of it away in a moment.”