What Defines Vulnerable


By Dawn M. Sanders

In the societal definition of ‘vulnerable’ groups like people who are elderly, children, those with mental, sensory or physical health needs mainly come to mind.

However, having a medical condition which makes anyone more vulnerable to the coronavirus is distinctly different from a sensory, physical or cognitive impairment.

I’m visually impaired, but that has nothing to do with my immune system, whether I’ve had underlying health issues such as asthma, cancer or even a common cold is another story particular with the outbreak of a world pandemic.

So, when someone asked me last week, ‘how am I doing my shopping’ it didn’t acur to me until later to reply – exactly how I usually do it, either get on a bus to town or Tesco or walk to my local 1 stop.

As far as I’m concerned, I live alone and where I happen to live is isolated.

I live on a private estate well away from the road at the top of a steep hill in a complex of 50 flats.

A lot of people don’t know this estate is here, it’s extremely quiet and not the friendliest place as people keep themselves to themselves or often flat ignore you if you say hello.

Unless I come into contact with others through an arranged meeting, such as a workshop, Labour party meeting, an interview, hanging out in a pub or visiting someone by arrangement – I’m always on my own.

I have had a few people contact me to ask if I’m okay or need anything which, is nice, but actually, if one is fairly socially isolated anyway, it’s nothing new, but further exacerbates your status if asked to socially distance when I’m already distanced by default as my grown up son lives in the north.

I’m not above asking for help, but as a general rule, when it comes to people with any additional needs, others are good at helping with functional things: a hand to the shop door if I’ve passed it, a hand over a tricky street crossing or unfamiliar place.  Yet, people never ask, ‘do you have anyone keeping you company or to talk to?

Loneliness is a really personal thing and, in my experience, not something people generally want to admit to.

In last week’s blog I wrote about the decline in community and increased individualism.  Yet with the outbreak of this deadly virus and the need to socially distance, virtual communities are springing up via zoom calls. I read today how a locally known elderly lady was thought of by others in her area and a phone number was slipped through her letter box – just to let her know help was there if she needed it.

However, loneliness doesn’t just affect the elderly.

The above article and others I have come across all point to the same thing – which is an increasing number of adults of all ages becoming isolated or feeling lonely.

If a child is considered ‘different’ and no one wants to play with her/him, the child will experience loneliness at an early age, just when it is vital to have friends.

In getting back to being vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus, the assistant I see once a week, who reads the post, helps with inaccessible aspects of the internet, such as uploading job applications etc. is seen to supposedly be the one who would go out and get my shopping as we’re told to socially distance.

Yet, she is more likely to infect someone she meets, as she lives with her family and travels on public transport to get to my house.

The point is, why should I have someone else doing my shopping when I can do it as I normally would?  The only difference between my assistant and I, in going to a familiar shop, is that I’m visually impaired and she isn’t.

Even if I go on my own and the shop assistant helping me has to guide me by giving me an arm – well there is a way around it by one of us in front of the trolley and the other pulling as I did as a natural course of action the last time I went grocery shopping  – so there are practical ways of maintaining some level of normality in these weird and uncertain times.

The main thing I feel, that makes me more vulnerable, is the increased isolation to what I already endure.

What I wouldn’t do for just a conversation – talking politics over a glass of wine up on our communal gardens – out in the fresh air, minimalizing the spread of the virus, but maximising my overall wellbeing.







2 thoughts on “What Defines Vulnerable”

  1. I do count as more vulnerable because of issues in addition to my physical disability, and I don’t experience the same issues around isolation. Still, I wanted to say thank you for sharing this because we need to see other perspectives and challenge our ideas about what other people want or need, especially at this time when we’re keyed in to focussing on our own particular needs and struggles.

  2. Thanks for appreciating my often different perspective. Far too often when it comes to people with additional needs it’s all about blanket terms, generalised catagories or one-size-supposedly-fits-all.

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