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What Can We Do for International Day for Persons with Disabilities?

November 30, 2021

In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly declared December 3 to be International Day for Persons with Disabilities, an annual observance “to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.” They also noted that the day would help increase awareness of the benefits that society gains by including persons with disabilities “in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.”

This year’s theme varies between organizations. The United Nations declared 2021’s theme as “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.” However, in Australia, the theme is “Fighting for rights in the post-COVID era.” These themes are both critical in many ways, including that COVID-19 is not only a serious risk for many people with disabilities but surviving the illness could result in worsening or new disabilities.

In the United States, the 2021 theme is “Not all disabilities are visible.” This is an important issue to keep in mind, given how many disabilities are invisible, including chronic pain and depression.

Disabilities are not always obvious

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a disability as “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).”

This means that people who live with some chronic conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); birth defects, like spina bifida; or cognitive impairment, like dementia, can be disabled. Even people with post-sepsis syndrome (PSS) could fall into this category if the condition leaves them unable to function as they did before they became ill.

COVID-19 and long-term disabilities

It wasn’t long after COVID-19 began spreading that doctors around the world noticed some people did not recover quickly or completely from the infection. They are often called “long-haulers.” They continued to experience COVID symptoms or develop new ones later. This can occur even among people who weren’t seriously ill with COVID-19.

So, what can we do this International Day for Persons with Disabilities?

Aside from the need to recognize the many disabilities that can affect someone’s life, many disabilities can increase your risk of contracting an infection, which could lead to sepsis. Knowing about the risks and how to identify sepsis can save many lives and limbs. Here are some examples:

Amputations

Amputations can be related to sepsis in two ways. People experiencing limb loss are at risk for infection after surgery to remove the limb, or if they use a prosthetic. Prosthetics can rub against the skin, causing skin break down and pressure injuries or ulcers. This can also happen for people who use wheelchairs or who must remain in bed for extended periods. These injuries can become infected.

Amputations can also be the result of surviving sepsis. If not enough blood reaches the limbs, the tissue can die and become gangrenous. When this occurs, amputations can be life-saving.

COPD

People with COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions have an increased risk of developing respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.

Parkinson’s disease

There are several infection risks due to Parkinson’s disease. These include aspiration pneumonia, caused by inhaling food or drink rather than swallowing it; injuries from falls; and (HAIs) because of frequent medical visits and hospitalizations.

Paralysis

As with amputations, people who have paralysis can develop skin sores that can become infected. The inability to move a limb or part of your body can make it susceptible to rubbing against an object, or even another part of the body. If there is no feeling in the area, it’s possible that a sore remains unnoticed while it is starting.

When someone has a disability, it is important to take into account any extra risks for contracting an infection. If you are in doubt, speak with your doctor or healthcare team about the risks and what you can do to help minimize them.

How you can help

There are many things we can do to help support people with disabilities all year:

  • Learn more about some disabilities from people who shared their experiences through Faces of Sepsis stories:
  • Share information about post-sepsis syndrome on your social media.
  • Remember that the person isn’t the disability and the disability isn’t the person. When using language to describe people, avoid using terms like “someone who is wheelchair bound,” saying instead something like, “someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility.” You can find some suggestions here.