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COVID-19 as social disability: the opportunity of social empathy for empowerment
  1. Ikenna D Ebuenyi1,
  2. Emma M Smith1,
  3. Catherine Holloway2,
  4. Rune Jensen3,
  5. Lucía D'Arino3,
  6. Malcolm MacLachlan1,4
  1. 1Assisting Living & Learning (ALL) Institute, Department of Psychology, Maynooth University, Maynooth, Ireland
  2. 2Interaction Centre and Global Disability Innovation Hub, University College London, London, United Kingdom
  3. 3World Federation of the DeafBlind (WFDB), Oslo, Norway
  4. 4Olomouc University Social Health Institute (OUSHI), Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ikenna D Ebuenyi; ikenna.ebuenyi{at}mu.ie

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Summary box

  • COVID-19 has conferred new experiential knowledge on society and a rare opportunity to better understand the social model of disability and to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

  • The COVID-19 experience may offer contextual knowledge of the prepandemic lives of persons with disabilities and foster greater social awareness, responsibility and opportunities for change towards a more inclusive society.

  • Information, family and social relationships, health protection and healthcare, education, transport and employment should be accessible for all groups of the population. The means must be developed and deployed to ensure equity – the deployment of resources so that people with different types of needs have the same opportunities for living good lives in inclusive communities.

  • We have learnt from COVID-19 that inclusive healthcare and universal access should be the new normal, that its provision as a social good is both unifying and empowering for society as a whole.

Social empathy is ‘the ability to more deeply understand people by perceiving or experiencing their life situations and as a result gain insight into structural inequalities and disparities’.1 Social empathy comprises three elements: individual empathy, contextual understanding and social responsibility.1 COVID-19 has created a population-wide experience of exclusion that is only usually experienced by subgroups of the general population.2 Notably, persons with disability, in their everyday lives, commonly experience many of the phenomena that have only recently been experienced by members of the general population. Although about 1 billion people or approximately 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability, ignorance and fear about disability and discrimination towards people with disability still persists.3 Public understanding of disability is shaped by a medical model of individual deficit, ignoring societal barriers that transpose the attribute of some type of psychological or bodily impairment into the social experience of …

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