This year, IMAS have offered placements to medical students from the University of Sheffield. Max Landsborough reports on what he has learned, and how the placement might influence he practises medicine in the future…
On my placement with International Mixed Ability Sports (IMAS) I saw how offering people of any ability access to more than just team sports builds up friendships and creates a community of friends that is invaluable to so many people with disabilities.
The Impact of COVID19
I learned how COVID19 has impacted people with learning disabilities to a far greater rate than the general population. I saw how people have had to shield more, generally had fewer close friends due to decreased support bubbles and struggled to contact people due to the “technology gap”.
- Often people with disabilities are at far greater risk of isolation as they often don’t have outlets to make friends via work, school, university and sports teams that they often feel isolated from.
- 10% of people in the UK are living with a Specific Learning Difference/Difficulty (SpLD), such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia/DCD.
- 17% of all adults with a learning disability in England are in paid work.
- 6% of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work.
- 24% said they felt lonely ‘a lot’. * This compares to just 3.4% of the general population who said they felt lonely ‘often or always,” Mencap 2019.
What is the “Technology Gap”
The “Technology Gap” is the lack of access to the necessary technology to combat loneliness during the pandemic. Most people take for granted access to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, but this is often a luxury that our most at risk do not have. They may also struggle to operate a tablet without assistance, as 80-90% of people with learning disabilities struggle to read, and thus what may appear a simple task like accessing a zoom call can be daunting and difficult.
Accessibility of Information
Working with Sam, an IMAS “expert by experience”, we looked at two major barriers: accessibility of information and the idea of risk and autonomy over one’s risk. Accessibility of information has come under scrutiny regarding the governments approach to lockdown and the distribution of information regarding COVID-19. The lack of sign interpreters and the level the knowledge is pitched at, left many confused which during these isolating times, further compounding the feeling of loneliness. This is exacerbated by the lack of support circles to fall back on when you have questions about the tier system, how new rules apply to you and where you can receive support.
Capacity, Autonomy and Risk vs Reward
Sam also raised the idea that capacity should allow you the freedom to make your own decisions, even if they go against the advice of medical practitioners. For example, coming back from a tour with a broken finger a medical practitioner may see this a negative event. However, upon further talking and context you would learn that the rugby tour has had a big positive impact upon the person’s mental health and has improved not just his independence but also built up a support network to allow him to further explore his independence moving into the future.
If we are to treat people with disabilities like everybody else and not “other” them, then we must allow them to have the autonomy over risk just like we do.
Safety nets not shackles
We cannot allow safety nets to act as shackles and finding the fine balance between offering support and over protecting people is something me must always strive to finetune. A balance that can only be achieved by listening to people’s experiences and not being rigid in your approach, as a more holistic, personalised approach to a patients entire life and the bigger picture than just their condition, as Drs we must strive to act and be seen as more than just vending machines for pills, and offer more guidance on broader and more sustainable alterations people can make to their lives.
Working with IMAS has been a fantastic experience for me. I have met a variety of interesting, funny, and complex characters who all bring a unique personality to the group. Being welcomed so warmly into such a great group dynamic was much appreciated. I have learnt a great deal from my one-to-one time with Sam and Mark and gained a greater empathy for their struggles, but more importantly admiration and respect for the way they have overcome them. In addition, our time learning about sustainability with Jen and Claire was eye-opening and has provided me with knowledge I would not have without those sessions. Finally, I also want to say a huge thank you to Gooders, Martino and Mark for being the best facilitators for me and for everyone at IMAS, you don’t do it for the praise, but you deserve it all the same.