Wheelchair users’ access to pavements is already being jeopardised as restaurants are allowed to set up more tables outdoors – and all because the government did not consult the disability sector, according to the commissioner for the rights of persons with disability Oliver Scicluna.

Similarly, because of the lack of consultation, he said, children with disabilities have no idea when their physical therapy will resume.

Such issues could be avoided and addressed if the government had bothered to consult with the commission before it announced measures to ease restrictions put in place to control the spread of the coronavirus, Scicluna said.

“The CRPD was set up specifically to be the voice for people with disability. If we are not consulted at the opportune time, we cannot make those voices heard,” he said.

The only ministry to consult was the Parliamentary Secretariat for People with Disability.

As a result of this consultation, people with a disability who could not work from home received up to €800 a month as part of the government’s help package for stalled businesses.

Over the past weeks, Scicluna said, he had been contacted by many people with disabilities and their relatives with a range of concerns and questions.

If we are not consulted we cannot make those voices heard

One of the main issues was physical therapy for children.

“We are in limbo about what will happen here. We all know how important this therapy is for these children. Without it they regress and all the progress they made can be lost.

“I am not saying these services should start immediately, since I am not a viral expert, but parents really need guidelines on the way forward,” he said.

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Soon after schools closed in March, therapy services officered by the government closed down. These included physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.

After a few weeks, these services started being offered virtually to some and while this could work in the case of speech therapy, it was not effective in the case of physical therapy, Scicluna said.

Besides, parents of people with disabilities who had a sensory overload were also worried because their child – aged over three – would not wear a mask. This was not catered for in the health authority’s guidelines for wearing of masks.

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Another major concern was access now that the government had said restaurants would be able to set up tables and chairs outside and that rules would be relaxed.

“We risk ruining 30 years of work in accessibility. Unfortunately, the sector is still an afterthought – but it should not be like this,” Scicluna said.

“Not all people with disabilities are physically vulnerable to the novel coronavirus but many are socially vulnerable and this is not being taken into account,” he added.

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