Manitobans with intellectual disabilities feel totally isolated due to COVID-19, advocates say
Virtual connections not available to many due to financial constraints
Some people living with intellectual disabilities who rely on others in several aspects of their lives say they feel completely frozen out of society due to the limits on social interaction caused by the pandemic.
And while many people have somewhat replaced in-person interactions with Zoom calls and other virtual means of communication, those options aren't available to some, advocates say.
David Kron, the executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, says that the lack of recreational opportunities and day programming due to the pandemic has been challenging for his members.
"When you don't have a day program or regular recreational things to go to, it makes your day very long. And it's hard on your mental health. It's hard on your physical health," he said.
"And they've been reaching out saying they're tired of it and they want to get together with their friends, they want to get together and give each other a hug."
The province suspended all day services funded by Community Living Disability Services in Winnipeg in mid-May due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases, while many other day programs have been put on pause due to the pandemic as well.
Zoom or virtual hangouts also aren't an option for some people. Kron said some of his members can't afford a computer or monthly internet bills, and rely on public libraries to use the internet.
"So they've lost all those connections," he said.
Judy Wolf has an intellectual disability and lives independently in Steinbach, Man. Before the pandemic started, she used to go to day programs in her city quite often, and even took part in the Special Olympics.
Because of COVID-19, those day programs have been suspended, which has left her feeling dejected.
"I am depressed because you know, I miss my friends and I miss the staff, and … all the things that I did," she said.
It's been difficult for those living in group homes too.
Karla Berbrayer's son, Micah Kraut, is on the autism spectrum and lives in a group home. Berbrayer's also chair of the Community Ventures family Network, which connects families to share information about day programs.
While Kraut gets along great with his housemates and the home's staff, life has become extremely monotonous for him, she said.
He used to take part in day programs that allowed him to get work experience at different places in the city and socialize. Now, his whole day consists of being in his residential home.
"It's very, very bad for mental health," she said.
"He wants to see his friends and he wants to go back to a learning environment and he wants to be in a routine that he used to love being a part of."
One of his happiest moments in recent months came when he was able to get his second vaccine shot last month.
"I haven't seen him so happy in a year. He was running into other people from other residential homes, other staff. They were so excited to see each other, even with their masks on," she said.
"And I thought, how sad is this, that in order for my son to have social interaction, I have to take him to the vaccine site. So I think that kind of sums up in a nutshell how important these social activities and the programs are for him."
Kron at the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba says he hopes more people getting their vaccine shots means his members can start to get those social connections back.
For now, his advice to them is to just take it one day at a time.
"And if that's too much, you take it half the time. And if that's too much, you take it one hour at a time. And if that's too much, you take it 10 minutes at a time and that's all you can do," he said.
With files from Carlos Sosa