When the lockdown measures were announced because of COVID-19, one of my instant worries as a Dwarf person was with food shopping. Ordinarily, shopping as a Dwarf person is a challenge. Mix social distancing measures, shopping and Dwarfism together and you have a nightmare.
In ordinary times shopping is one of the many challenges we face moving around society. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard from a number of people in the Dwarfism community who have experienced difficulties in receiving support from supermarkets due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Some of us are managing to be registered as vulnerable adults and gaining access to the elusive online delivery shopping. Others, distressingly, are not.
I wrote this post on the Hello Little Lady Facebook Page out of pure frustration…and terror, at the thought I would not be able to go food shopping or order shopping online.
Thankfully, I found out via the supermarkets that I had been registered as vulnerable. The knot unfurled from my stomach that we had the security to order online.
However, my main concern has been the government’s implementation and the eligibility of who qualifies for support from the supermarkets.
Concerns over medical model use
The primary focus for eligibility, by the government, is on the medical aspect of disabled person being clinically vulnerable. This makes no allowances for disabled people who are affected by accessibility issues surrounding shopping. In the case of the Dwarfism community, while our conditions can be predominately stable, our bodies do pose a risk to our safety and health moving around society.
Dwarf people are adversely affected by Social distance measurements in supermarkets
Dwarf people who would ordinarily rely on online shopping because of their Dwarfism, now find themselves locked out of the service they relied on pre-crisis.
As a Dwarf person, if we find ourselves in a position where we do not qualify as a vulnerable person – we will now have to deal with the social distancing measure introduced by supermarkets. This poses a whole bunch of other issues and challenges.
How? You may wonder, you’re just little!
I’ll get straight to the point with this one.
Imagine a child of 4 years old, 6 years or even an 8 years old child – you can imagine their height, yes?
You would want to supervise them around the supermarket making sure tins or packets didn’t fall on their heads. You would offer to carry any shopping bags because they would be really heavy to lift and push the trolley around and be able to reach items at the bottom of it. Now imagine those child-size bodies are actually adults…
Meaning when we shop…
- We often rely on the kindness of strangers to reach things down from shelves for us. How can we do that now if we are supposed to stand 2 meters from each other? And what danger are we putting ourselves and others in if we ask for assistance?
- We are at risk of injuring ourselves if we try and reach high placed items that average-height people can easily reach. If only one person per household can enter a shop, who would we be able to ask for help?
- We cannot stand for long periods of time, meaning queuing outside to get into the supermarket will cause us pain and fatigue. We’ll be exhausted before we’ve even set foot in the building.
- Being visible in crowds leaves us vulnerable to experiencing negative attention and behaviours from non-disabled people because of our Dwarf bodies. Whether that is being stared at, pointed and laughed at or have our bodies being filmed for ‘fun’ on mobile phones by strangers.
- Then there’s the fact we’ll be limited to what we can buy because as carrying heavy shopping bags is an exhausting activity itself – if we can manage it in the first place.
Here are a few photos from the You’re Just Little exhibition that reflect our perspectives when grocery shopping in ordinary times.
Can you see my concern about how the Dwarfism community has fallen through the cracks of the government support, at a time when it is essential that we are supported?
Has the quickness of the situation caught organisations unaware?
As the dust settles and we all find ourselves adapting to our new routines, my guess is that the government’s and supermarkets’ responses are reflective of how quickly they had to move to ensure that the most vulnerable were protected in the lockdown and from the food shortages. I suspect they were woefully underprepared and unaware of the level of care and support required by a range of disabled people.
My hope is that serious lessons can be learnt by those in power that not all disabilities who require support are about sickness. That the barriers disabled people face are not only health-related, but also influenced by moving around society. That support is adequately provided from here on in to support us as the situation progresses.
Support Going Forward
If you are struggling to find support for shopping and do not qualify as a vulnerable person – contact your local council who should be able to signpost you to organisations who can help you. There is more advice on gaining help in this post ‘Seeking Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic as a Dwarf Person‘. Little People UK also has an excellent article on support on their website.
Share your experience
The Disability News Service has reported that the law firm Fry Law is launching a Mass Legal Action against the supermarkets ‘discriminating’ against disabled people due to the social distancing measures being enforced. They are currently looking for cases where people have experienced difficulties if you qualify for the No-win, No-Fee basis.
One of my concerns, is that I do not want Dwarf voices or experiences of pandemic to be drowned out in this crisis. At the very least, we can do something to contribute constructively to the conversation.
To do this, I’m looking to gather evidence of the difficulties experienced with accessing supermarkets during the COVID-19 crisis as a Dwarf person. If you feel comfortable enough and in a safe space to do so, please can I ask that you share your experiences with me by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org. The aim to build a picture of experiences across the country and then share them with my MP. Let me know if you would prefer to remain anonymous in the email.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay home!