Disability Welfare Policy in Europe

Cover of Disability Welfare Policy in Europe

Cognitive Disability and the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic



Table of contents

(12 chapters)

The introduction presents the pandemic context as the new sanitary surveillance regime that has even more affected persons with disabilities. This book focuses on welfare disability policy, services and practices for and with people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic time, examining the period between Winter 2020 and Spring 2022. A pandemic is a time when changes are accelerated, forcing the emergence of new solutions. The pandemic has called for innovation and reform in all disability welfare policies to overcome increasing and changing social needs. Despite the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Strategy 2021–2030, the impact of the pandemic has been different in each country according to the features of each national policy framework and local responses. Nevertheless, the European policy framework is the context and the benchmarking reference for the analysis carried out in this work. This book develops a sociological analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on policies, services and practices in several European contexts adopting a public sociology perspective. Moreover, the book looks at supportive and self-help activities implemented during the pandemic to answer the needs of the persons with disabilities. By collecting these data, the book outlines and develops the concept of a community of practices as a group of people that share a concern for something they do and learn how to do it better by interacting with each other on a regular basis. Then the structure and the methodological choices of the book are presented.


Welfare policies for persons with disabilities have been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this introductory chapter provides the theoretical background to the book. Definition, data and main European policies about disabilities are outlined. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is the key pillar of disability policies in European countries. In line with a Disability Studies perspective, COVID-19 health surveillance regime has been a challenge in the implementation process of the UNCRPD, highlighting the role of lay knowledge and community of practices in managing everyday challenges for persons with disabilities and their families, and therefore their potential role in becoming part of epistemic communities to support the policy making and implementation process of the UNCRPD.


Inclusion Europe, the European movement of people with intellectual disabilities and their families, shared what people with intellectual disabilities and their families faced during the COVID-19 crisis. Collecting information showed people with intellectual disabilities were segregated and discriminated against. The pandemic intensified and magnified the segregation and discrimination of people with intellectual disabilities, shedding light on their exclusion. Many human rights were violated. Therefore, such testimonies should encourage governments and institutions to urgently design a society that includes people with intellectual disabilities and their families.


The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has been declared a public health emergency which has caused unexpected and enormous changes all over the world. Everywhere, as well as in Hungary, it has led to disease control measures being put in place, including strict lockdown restrictions, which have affected people's daily activities and routines (DPMK, 2020). The partial or regular closure of educational institutions have been administered, resulting in a shift to online education. It has been extremely difficult for the population to handle this new situation and the emerging challenges, not to mention certain social minority groups such as people with cognitive disabilities, for whom and for whose families the current situation has implicated an even bigger burden. The aim of this chapter is to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdown on children with cognitive disabilities through the point of view of their parents and of the special needs educators/teachers in Hungary. The lockdown measures have affected the perspective of parents and special needs educators/teachers of children with cognitive disabilities with regards to the access and the quality of education for disabled people.


In Italy, policies and services devoted to persons with disabilities, particularly those with cognitive disabilities, are still characterised by institutional segmentation and are focused on the medical model and therefore on rehabilitation, rather than on social participation, despite the formal ratification of the UNCRPD in 2009. This chapter analyses the pandemic impact by focusing on daily services, as a central service of welfare disability policy, and investigating if the pandemic has strengthened the dominant medical view, or if it has been an opportunity for a more integrated (social and health services) provision of services for people with disabilities, particularly with cognitive disabilities, and their families. Data on two regional case studies show severe differences in implementing national regulation to manage the pandemic at regional level. The difficulties experienced by both families and healthcare and social professionals are similar in the two regions, but the different organisational system concerning social and health care services outlines contexts with different rights.


Work participation and work facilitation represent basic human rights for everyone. Work represents an important platform for welfare and well-being, but compared to the general workforce in Norway, persons with cognitive disabilities are severely under-represented. When workplaces locked down under the first COVID-19 outbreak spring 2020, some people were made redundant whilst many continued their work from home. The lockdown affected persons with cognitive disabilities through lockdown of workplaces, vocational training centres and even day activity centres. The scheme of working from home was not as obvious or facilitated for this group, as for other employees. When also visits were banned and common areas for socialisation were locked down, the consequences of these lockdowns were exacerbated. In this chapter we have examined and discussed the COVID-19 restrictions in Norway and how they affected the basic human rights of persons with cognitive disabilities, and also how such rights can be promoted through legislation, governance and service provision.


Our chapter focuses on the situation of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We present the results of a qualitative study aimed at outlining the state of policies dedicated to individuals with ASD prior to and during the global health crisis. We conducted desk research based on documents published by third sector organisations dedicated to individuals with ASD and categorised in our study as epistemic communities. Next, we carried out interviews with parents and professionals on the social practices of supporting children and adolescents with ASD during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region of Lesser Poland [PL: Małopolska]. The discourse of NGOs enabled us to identify the greatest challenges of individuals with ASD and their families and solutions introduced prior to and during the pandemic. Based on the accounts of parents and professionals, we found that as many as every single person with ASD struggled with the epidemic in an individual manner, ceasing pre-pandemic habits, adapting to the new school context, and missing contacts with peers were the major difficulties.


This chapter presents the findings of a participatory research project on the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdown on the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in Madrid, Spain. It provides a brief overview of the social policy framework with regards to people with disabilities, and how the government responded to the needs of people with disabilities during the pandemic. The research was conducted by seven co-researchers with intellectual disabilities, who explored how people with intellectual disabilities in Madrid had experienced the lockdown and sanitary restrictions from March 2020 to November 2021. Participants included people living at home with their families, in group homes and in residential care. The findings are contrasted with other studies on the impact of the pandemic in Spain. The pandemic revealed the precariousness of the care system, and the urgent need to shift towards a human rights compliant service provision. Our study shows that people with intellectual disabilities experienced restrictions in different aspects of their lives during a longer period, that people living in residential care were more isolated and that there is a general concern with the future. People living in congregated settings were subject to higher restrictions. Some people had become care providers to their parents, and digital skills had been essential to keep in touch with partners, friends and family. Furthermore, people expressed a desire to regain their freedom, meet new people and a concern with lack of employment.


The aim of this chapter is to explore changes since the COVID-19 pandemic in welfare policies and services for people with learning disabilities and autism in England, focusing mainly on educational and health and social care sectors.

A review of official policy documents published on GOV.UK from January 2020 to May 2021 has been conducted using keywords on the topic in question, and semi-structured interviews took place in 2022 with four key informants/stakeholders working in health and social care or education sectors of people with learning disability or autism in England.

The main findings indicate a need to shift practices online due to the pandemic, for both education and health and social-care practice. It is also clear that reforms and adjustments were implemented in guidance, policies and frameworks for the support of persons with learning disabilities and autism. It has been increasingly difficult for people with disabilities to access healthcare services and medication during the pandemic, and this has had an impact on their overall health and wellbeing too. Experts suggested that smoother changes and more support are required, in terms of provision of services, research, access to healthcare, educational services, mental health, employment, as well as more public funding on such services for people with learning disabilities and autism.

The main lessons learned were focusing on the use of online resources, digitalisation of services and access to them, but also difficulty of the system to adapt fast to major changes required in order to support people with disabilities.


The chapter presents the similarities and the differences between the different case studies reported in the book and suggests some conclusion on the impact of COVID-19 on policies and practices devoted to persons with cognitive disabilities from a macro, meso and micro point of view. The COVID-19 surveillance regime has made people with disabilities, and particularly with intellectual ones, even more invisible, since their rights have been consistently under-represented in the different national contexts. Persons with intellectual disabilities have been considered objects of protection and this overprotective stance turns into an increasing process of institutionalisation, segregation and familiarisation of care. The COVID-19 surveillance regime has brought into light the limits of the implementation of the UN Convention and of the EU Strategy, but the book and the emerging epistemic community, in the framework of public sociology, contribute to support the rights of all persons, with or without disabilities, in public welfare policies in Europe.

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