Wondering how COVID-19 has affected people with intellectual disabilities? We asked Vanessa Cox, a Ph.D. Candidate studies health and rehabilitation science to learn more.

While 2020 was a huge success for many of us concert-goers and travel lovers, some people experienced the pandemic from a much more humble perspective. Vanessa Cox, a PhD student at Western University, works as a Direct Support Professional, helping adults with developmental disabilities. In their experience, the pandemic has disrupted the lives of the people it supports in terms of routine, structure and access to resources.

What initially inspired you to work in this area?

“I felt inspired to get involved and fill these treatment gaps.”

I became interested in this area when I was treated as a teenager for something that resulted in a long hospital stay. While I was there, a woman with an intellectual disability was treated for the same matter. I quickly noticed that there were inconsistencies in the way the medical staff appeared to be delivering our treatments and I was inspired to get involved and help fill those treatment gaps. A music therapist at the hospital asked if I would like to work for children with disabilities in her summer camp.

Can you elaborate on your work for those who may not be familiar?

“Given the complications associated with COVID-19, these activities have temporarily halted.”

In general, my job is to support adults with developmental disabilities in their daily lives. The support that is needed for each person really depends on what the person needs on a regular basis, as well as their individual preferences and goals. For some people, like those living in long-term care, my job has traditionally been to go for a coffee walk or browse the mall with the people I support. Given the complications associated with COVID-19, these activities have temporarily halted. For others, the support could be to help deal with complex medical problems in their homes, which requires more hands-on attention.

How or in what way has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and the people you support?

For me, work has changed a lot since the pandemic started. A large part of my role was focused on getting individuals out of the home, socializing, and engaging with the community. My role is more about helping her stay home now. This includes finding different ways to socialize, stay busy, and deal with changes in their routines.

How has your job changed to better adapt to current conditions?

The agency I work for (and many others) had to turn around and find ways to adjust to an obstacle they never anticipated. You need to balance the Ministry’s directions while making sure that not everyone is painted with the same brush and that they still provide individual assistance. The agency I work for campaigned for funds to acquire iPads and tablets to connect through technology.

Do you feel that the people you work with have received adequate support and resources through this pandemic? Why or why not?

“I think the pandemic is further exposing some of these obstacles. For example living. “

At best, people with intellectual disabilities face the challenge of accessing the support and resources they need to thrive in society. I think the pandemic continues to expose some of these obstacles. For example housing. Many young people with developmental disabilities live in nursing homes and are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as much stricter restrictions. This is because there aren’t enough resources to support them within their own four walls. Typically, there is little reason why someone with a developmental disorder cannot live in their own home when they want to unless there is a lack of resources or resources are not allocated effectively.

What is your biggest pain point right now and what kind of support do you need or would you benefit from?

I haven’t seen my family since Christmas and this was the first year I couldn’t fly home for the holidays. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one struggling with isolation and not in my family. I try to remind myself that we are all experiencing the effects of COVID-19 together.

Talking to students like Vanessa has helped us expand our awareness and better understand how the pandemic has affected lives that many of us may not be directly exposed to. Today more than ever, Vanessa’s work is critical to the needs of society. We wish Vanessa the best of luck with her PhD at Western University!

If you or someone you know has a story to offer in our Student With Stories series, please contact us here.

Samantha Moss

Sam is an Account Manager at Student Life Network and an author for various digital platforms. She enjoys true criminal conspiracies, snowboarding, and a well-delivered punch line.


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