As special schools across the country begin to reopen, many people are still calling for clarification on the status of respite and adult day centres.
This comes just a week after 18 new cases were reported in centres for people with disabilities.
The HSE funds almost 1,000 locations across Ireland, catering to around 19,000 adults with disabilities.
Organisations such as CI Dawn in Co Donegal provide day services to adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities, and aid young adults in the transition from school to day centres. Service users can choose from up to 30 modules provided by the centre, ranging from art and music to travel training.
Dean Larkin from the CI Dawn says that the focus is on community inclusion: “That’s what we’re here for. We’re out and about a lot, we’ve got work experience. A few of the service users go out on work experience so some of them are maybe in shops, or one person works in a garage. It’s really about providing opportunities for everyone.”
After initially closing at the beginning of the pandemic, day services throughout Ireland eventually resumed in August 2020, operating at approximately 38% capacity.
On 11 November 2020, Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Anne Rabbitte, stated that the objective was to have day services operating at a minimum of 50% capacity.
At the CI Dawn, there are just two service users out of eight attending the centre at the moment.
A survey conducted by Inclusion Ireland found that only 20% of adults with intellectual disabilities reported feeling happy to stay at home, and many mentioned missing the support from staff at the centres.
One of the main difficulties, says Larkin, is the closure of many other services in the community:
“Normally on a Tuesday we would have gone to the gym, Wednesday would have been the swimming pool, on a Thursday we’re doing Discover Donegal. So you’re out and about a lot. But obviously everywhere is closed at the minute, and you don’t want to be in contact with other people, so if service users are in, you’re just limited with what’s happening.”
A report on the experiences of adults with intellectual disabilities during the pandemic – which was conducted and written by people with intellectual disabilities – highlighted some of the difficulties faced:
“It was mayhem. We couldn’t get back at all with this Covid-19. I was very panicky, annoyed, upset, anxious – can’t see staff, can’t see friends. It’s lonely, and scary, and worried. I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss my loved ones.” Said Gary McCabe, a participant in the report.
There was a general consensus among the participants that the boredom and social isolation was one of the worst aspects of lockdown, and most were eager to return to work or day service.
“It’s kind of sad not having a reason to get up in the morning, waiting for the bus to come and take us to day service.” Said Peggy McDonnell, another participant.
For people with intellectual disabilities, the uncertainty of lockdown can be quite challenging, and the survey by Inclusion Ireland found that loneliness was a “significant issue” for 56% of respondents.
To help combat this, many centres are reaching out to service users over the phone and online.
“We provide an outreach programme. So for service users at home, we send out a pack every two weeks. You’re still keeping in contact with the families and the service users just so they know you’re still there if they need anything. We also call every week to chat to the service users if they want to talk,” says Larkin.
The centre has also been utilising Facebook, going live and posting interactive videos such as quizzes, live music and even classes like yoga and gymnastics.
Larkin says that the response to the online presence has been positive and one benefit is that the videos are saved to the page so people can watch them in their own time.
However, for many people with intellectual disabilities, online communication and learning on its own is not a viable long-term solution, and for these people it is important that they are able to access the services they require safely and regularly.
Drumboe Respite House in Co Donegal allows people to stay over and go for trips to the cinema, shops, and restaurants.
Due to the nature of the service they provide, they are not able to work online and have been closed since the pandemic began, says Paul Kelly, a nurse at the respite house.
“There’s been no respite at all. Day centres can do bits and pieces online but it’s still not the same. They’re just on a screen all day and when they’ve been doing it for years, they have a routine of getting the bus in. Maybe meeting the busman and going to the shops and meeting other people. Now they’re just at home on a screen and they might find it hard to understand that,” says Kelly.
With the Covid-19 vaccine being administered to more and more people, disability workers are hopeful that this will speed up the safe reopening of disability services.
“We’re hoping that both the staff and service users will be vaccinated soon and then it’s just totally up to the service users and their families when they want to come back in. There’s no pressure because their spot is always going to be here,” says Dean Larkin.