“Disability and COVID-19 in Portugal” - Study
Given the pandemic crisis caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19), the ODDH sought to understand how, in Portugal, this situation was being experienced by persons with disabilities and their families. For this purpose, two exploratory studies were conducted through the use of online questionnaires, where a total of 1 051 responses were obtained: Study 1, during the general lockdown period (n=725) and Study 2, after the lockdown period (n=326). In the carried-out surveys, it was collected information on the impacts of the pandemic regarding access to support and services (Studies 1 and 2); access to education and teaching (Studies 1 and 2); and health and psychological well-being of people with disabilities and respective caregivers (Study 2).
Regarding supports and services, since the closure of social support facilities in March 2020, 40,1% (n=286) of the surveyed in Study 1 replied that support or services were withdrawn. In Study 2, there was an effort to understand the extent to which some of these had already been re-established (or not). The results show that, in many cases, these supports and services only restarted at a partial level or were still suspended: Occupational Activity Centres (CAOs) (46,2%), physical therapy (56,7%), speech therapy (46,8%), occupational therapy (62,3%), medical consultations (52,8%) and nursing care (45,3%).
Regarding education, the solutions made available to students with disabilities – during and after the general lockdown – were assessed negatively, despite there were improvements registered between the two moments. In Study 1, respondents who answered that they are students or are responsible for family members with disabilities who attend compulsory education (n=217), 77,9% (n=169) evaluated the distance learning options negatively. In Study 2, the responses related to students attending pre-school, primary or secondary education (n=34) were as follows: 64,7% (n=22) considered that they were not adequate, where 26,5% (n=9) considered them not adequate at all and 38,2% (n=13) little adequate. On the other hand, only 35,3% (n=12) considered the measures to be somewhat adequate, where 26,5% (n=9) considered them to be adequate and 8,8% (n=3) quite adequate. Some testimonies collected in Study 2 illustrate some difficulties that persist, even in face-to-face learning, although, in other cases, improvements were noted:
“He stopped attending the few classes he used to attend and was confined to the autism unit because he can’t wear a mask.”
(E2_ID191_Caregiver of a 14-year-old boy with a disability, Lisbon)
“He already started working with the special education teacher, but the therapists are not placed yet.”
(E2_ID220_Caregiver of a 12-year-old boy with a disability, Setúbal)
Respondents were also questioned about the impacts of the pandemic on their psychological well-being: 51% (n=164) reported that, since the beginning of the pandemic, they have felt more sad or depressed than usual, 58,4% (n=188) reported feeling more anxious than usual, and finally, 39,3% (n=127) reported greater difficulties in sleeping. The majority of the participants in this study (67,7%, n =214) also stated that since the beginning of the pandemic they had felt an increased concern about a possible deteriorating of their economic situation, against 32,3% (n=102) who replied that they were nothing or little worried.
Study 2 also included caregivers and family members of people with disabilities (n=88), of whom 83% (n=73) were women, and 17% (n=15) were men. When asked about how they felt, during the confinement period, and more recently, during the deconfinement period, the results show significant differences between these two moments: 73,4% (n=55) replied that they felt very or quite tired in the confinement phase, against 47,7% (n=31) after the reopening of support services (-25,7 percentage points) and, 64% (n=48) answered that they felt very or quite exhausted, against 41,9% (n=26) after the reopening of support services (-22,1 percentage points). Regarding the interference of the care provided to the individuals with disabilities in the exercise of their professional activity, 68,2% (n=58) responded that the caregiving had reflected a negative influence on the practice of their professional activity, and only 31,7% (n=27) did not express difficulties.
Some of the collected testimonies illustrate these difficulties:
“I had to suspend the company in order to take care of my son and, as I am a managing partner, the government didn’t give me any support. It has been eight months, and I have not received any support, it is shameful. For those who for 20 years has paid everything to social security to now, not receive any support, it is shameful.”
(E2_ID67_Caregiver of a 7-year-old boy with a disability, Faro)
“I’ve kept my professional activity from home. However, I had to work almost every night to make up for the time I was taking care of my son during the day.” (E2_ID236_Caregiver of a 10-year-old boy with a disability, Lisbon)
Report “Persons with Disabilities in Portugal – Human Rights Indicators 2020”
The Report “Persons with Disabilities in Portugal – Human Rights Indicators 2020” makes use of national and international secondary sources of information to provide indicators measuring the progress achieved in relation to the human rights of persons with disabilities in Portugal. The report shows that, in 2019, 4,2% (n=12 027) of people registered as unemployed had a disability, with a decrease of 1% (-108) when compared to 2018 (n=12 135). However, the reduction in registered unemployment was more significant in the general population, where there was a drop of 9%. Nonetheless, in the first half of 2020 alone, there was a registered growth of 10% in comparison with the total data of 2019 (13 270 registered), coming to a value that is slightly above the peak of unemployment recorded in this group in 2016.
Thus, the data reveals the negative impacts of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the employment of persons with disabilities, highlighting the structural vulnerability of this group when accessing work.
Regarding education, there is an emphasis this year on the school abandonment indicator. The European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC, 2018) showed that in 2018, the rate of early leavers in students with disabilities, aged between 18 and 24, in Portugal, was of 21,9%, much higher than the average of students without disabilities in Portugal (+9,5 p.p.; 12,4%) (Figure 6).
The same analysis, considering young people aged between 18 and 29 years old, shows that in 2018, the rate of early leavers was even higher, standing at 32%, nearly double of their peers without disabilities (16,4%). When we compare the data with the one retrieved in 2015 (Pinto & Kuznetsova, 2017), it appears that the reduction in the dropout rate was more substantial among young people without disabilities (where it decreased to 5,4 p.p. in the 18-24 age group and 6,8 p.p. in the 18-29 age group) than among young people with disabilities (where it decreases from 2,2 p.p. in the 18-24 group and 3,9 p.p. in the 18-24 age group), thus contributing for a wider gap between the population with and without disabilities.
In turn, regarding Living Conditions and Social Protection, the risk of poverty or social exclusion indicator shows that there is also a considerable gap between people with and without disabilities: in 2018, in Portugal, the risk of poverty or social exclusion in women with disability (29,1%) was 11,2 p.p., considerably higher than the risk faced by women without disabilities (17,9%), while for men it represented 9,8 p.p. (a difference of 28,1% vs 18,3%).
This level of disparity had hardly changed since 2016 when the gap between the risk of poverty of women with and without disabilities was 10,2 p.p. and between men with and without disabilities was at 10,7 p.p. (see Pinto & Pinto, 2018). Thus, despite the overall improvements recorded for both groups in terms of reducing the risk of poverty, the level of inequalities remains almost unchanged between the population with and without disabilities.