How I see it …. a taste of the hidden cost of disability during a pandemic

Person in a hoddie with his face covered by darness
Photo by Kaique Rocha on

With Auckland back in Level 4 lockdown, I thought I would share some of the hidden costs of disability in a pandemic.  Please note – this is based on my own experiences and I can navigate these, but others may have their own unique challenges.

The costs I will discuss are related to a basic need (access to food) and a legislated requirement (getting a Covid-19 test).

You may be aware that I am legally blind and have low visual acuity and a reduced visual field which makes transport and reading grocery labels challenging in everyday circumstances.  Lockdown raises hidden challenges for many people and I thought I would take some time to address some of those that I have experienced in the hope that readers can learn from these.

Screenshot of Twitter PostOn the weekend, I posted to Twitter about my experience getting groceries when I had spent three days trying to place an online shopping order (I still haven’t found somewhere that has a delivery slot within a week).  Usually, it would be a 20-minute walk to my local supermarket, however, choosing this option comes with pros and cons. I am limited by what I can carry and many trips to the supermarket would put me and others at risk of spreading Covid-19.  Similarly, if you add walking and queuing to get into the supermarket along with the extra time reading labels and prices as well this can mean being out for an extended period of time. Alongside this, moving objects such as people, cars, trolleys and other things add nausea making the experience unpleasant.  For these reasons I always generally shop online, about four days ahead.

During the last lockdown, I was added to the Priority Access list for groceries at Countdown and ordered groceries a week in advance easily.  What is different this time is that there are absolutely no delivery slots, even for those who need them.  I have tried most available supermarkets and food stores that deliver without a subscription and have found no slots available at any.

One of the messages from the government is “shop normally”, however, the new settings related to the Covid-19 Delta variant, we now have all people who have been in the same location as a positive Covid-19 case isolating at home are now considered close contacts.  This means they can not leave home and also need to order their groceries online.  This raises an interesting dilemma when we already start with an uneven playing field.  There are a lot of questions:

  • how is the need for groceries need to be measured?
  • who gets priority access to groceries?
  • how is this regulated and policed?
  • how do we locate those who need food? E.g. have no one to assist
  • what contingencies are in place for those who can no get access?

Recently I have noticed the media has picked up access issues but for the most part, the focus is on those who are self-isolating.  My immediate thought was what about those following instructions who already are challenged by access on an everyday basis.  We also need to eat.

Top three news posts related to supermarket online shopping:

I am privileged to have friends who are willing to grocery shop for me if I ask.  Although, it is worth mentioning that if someone does shop for me this decreases my risk of spreading or contracting Covid-19 it does put them at risk of potentially causing them and others harm.

Yesterday I found out I was at a location of interest with an infected person for about 25 minutes and needed to get a Covid-19 test today. While on the phone with the Healthline representative I took the time to ask about any processes for getting groceries for those who found accessing supermarkets difficult with the intent of spreading the answers to those in need.  The two suggestions I was were “ask friends”, “call the student volunteer army“.  To be honest I had expected more information from Healthline considering we are told to phone for Covid-19 related information.

As an experienced nurse, there were a couple of things that concerned me about that phone call but for now, the important point in this post is access and the hidden costs related to Covid-19 Lockdown.

The Covid-19 briefings have mentioned that testing and vaccination-related to Covid-19 are free.  I beg to differ there are many hidden costs for both of these.

On discussing where I could get a Covid-19 test the Healthline representative and I went through all locations within an approximate 8 km radius and discussed the wait time of up to 5 – 8 hours at some for a test.

The closest testing point that the Healthline representative offered (1.3 km away) was not completing the tests at the current time.  The next suggestion was the local Urgent Care (2 km) who informed me they were not doing Covid-19 swabs at present and to go to the local drive-through testing station.  The next closest (2.5 km) was a drive-through only and because I am blind and am in a bubble on my own this caused a dilemma.  I could go to this testing station in a Taxi but 5 – 8 hour waits for a test were being reported at that time so getting a Taxi became too expensive. This ruled out everything within walking distance.

The next suggestion was getting a bus.  Bus timetables are limited, but that was not the main issue.   Where I live the buses either go to the CBD (12 km) or local bus station (3 km) and change busses to get elsewhere.  The Healthline worker had suggested minimising bus travel particularly if I needed to change busses at a station leaving only the CBD as the only option by bus.  At the time of this call, there was no public testing centre available in the CBD so these options were both ruled out.

The next option is my GP (4 km), the GP were able to do Covid-19 testing, but not at my usual practice.  I needed to go to their satellite clinic which was further away (about 8 km).  By this time I was rather over trying to contact testing locations and figuring out how I could access these and decided to pay for a Taxi to the GP satellite clinic for a test.

While the processes used by my GP practice was impeccable (shout out to one of my ex nursing students who took the test) it was getting there was costly.

Costly in more than one way.  Firstly there was the stress of explaining the context, disability and reasons that drive-through clinics could not be used. Emotionally the process of locating an accessible option is tiring and illustrates sub-optimal access but it highlights a negative component of living with a liability reinforcing some of the views discussed in my last blog post. The next cost is the price of getting a taxi ($23 each way) a total of $46 for one test.

While I can afford to pay for this there are many of my friends and acquaintances with circumstances that can not afford the monetary cost of this without careful planning.

The part that eventually prompted me to write this blog post is that the taxi driver who took me to get tested for Covid-19 told me that he had just come from a District Health Board Covid-19 testing centre that was not advertised to the public about 600 m from my house with no queue.

This got me thinking.  I immediately entered problem-solving mode, thinking about solutions to manage flow access testing centres.  However, I quickly realised this needs a coordinated response and opted to publicise the need for streamlined processes for those who can not access services in a Covid-19 Lockdown.

As my tweet pictured above suggests – if you can shop for groceries in-store please do.

Online Grocery Shopping

Here are some online grocery stores that I found while trying to get some groceries delivered:

No Delivery Slots Available

Reported Delay in Delivery

Subscription / Membership

One thought on “How I see it …. a taste of the hidden cost of disability during a pandemic

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  1. As an update, the Student Volunteer Army is fantastic for groery delivery. I have emailed some suggeestions regarding accessability of Covid-19 testing to the Office for Disability Issues as there were different access acocmodations avialable in the last level four lockddown that are not available this time.

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