The Netherlands: an ‘intelligent lockdown’
by Alice Schippers, Amersfoort, The Netherlands
During the corona crisis, the Netherlands practice an ‘intelligent lockdown.’ The term, coined by the Dutch prime minister, reflects the individual responsibility of citizens who can ‘think and act like adults’. To ‘flatten the curve,’ public health measures are taken to protect all citizens, including the ‘most vulnerable.’
In the early days of the intelligent lockdown, the communication was not inclusive at all: the deaf community successfully lobbied for simultaneous sign interpretation of television news bulletins. This lobby was so successful that sure signs run viral at social media, and hopefully, accessibility of information will sustain to be the ‘new normal.’
Less successful is the lobby by the disability sector for protective equipment for professional staff working in group homes and care facilities. Since protective equipment is scarce throughout the globe, general hospitals with intensive care units and corona wards are the first where these highly needed materials are distributed. There seems to be a hierarchy in distributing protective material where the disability sector is not prioritised. Umbrella organisations and advocacy groups are tirelessly alerting the national bodies not to overlook the disability sector where protective equipment is also highly needed. Testimonials and blogs of self-advocates and family members indicate their worries about a triage system, prioritising otherwise healthy lives over vulnerable and disabled lives.
Public health for all?
Paradoxically, the tendency is to forget the ‘most vulnerable’ in this corona crisis, while the public health measures are taken to protect them in the first place. People with disabilities and those who support them were overlooked in the early stages of public health crisis management: information was not accessible, protective material was not thought of. The disability sector itself needed to ring the bell, indicating that people with disabilities and those who support them are also part of the population and thus eligible for the general measures taken.
One could argue that it is a good thing that alternative routes are so quickly taken. In essence, every corona crisis news bulletin is now sign interpreted, protective gear (if available) is distributed more equally, and the national coordinator reassured that disability is not an indicator in the triage process for IC beds.
Notwithstanding, in this crisis the undercurrent in society becomes more visible: people with disabilities are being marginalised in society and health care. In the current crisis, disabled people and their allies need to fight their place in the hierarchy of needs: accessible information, availability of protective gear and equality in triages. Human rights, meaning equal treatment of all people, regardless of race, gender, and disability (UN-CRPD), are only recently ratified in the Netherlands (2016) and obviously not yet internalised.
Moreover, the current public health measures are rooted in a merely individualistic approach, as reflected by its main feature ‘social distancing’. Even in the semantics of this term, it becomes clear that it is necessary to avoid others to save one’s own life and that of other individuals. As a consequence, families of people with disabilities, living in group homes and other institutional arrangements cannot visit their beloved ones and all are facing hard times. It is the underlying assumption of the primary individual responsibility of the intelligent lockdown that fuels the common idea of ‘blaming the victim’. If individuals, with or without disabilities, become deadly ill by the virus, it is they who are to blame, because they did not practice proper social distancing. This echoes the rise of the new eugenics that holds persons with a disability, or their parents, responsible for the disability because it was avoidable by neonatal techniques (Brown et al, 2019).
Finding new ways: family and social responsibility
What makes optimistic is that this individualistic approach is countered by the many forms of solidarity we can witness during this crisis, for instance, the revaluation of health and care professionals, alternative forms of treatment and communication, and local initiatives for the elderly. ‘We can see a miracle happen’, states Van den Brink (2020) pointing at the numerous initiatives of mutual support, involvement, and solidarity that can be seen during this pandemic. He and others (EASPD, 2020) argue for a system change based on solidarity instead of a foundation on neoliberal grounds. It is this counterstory of solidarity that will keep the (disability) community alive in this time of crisis. Finding new ways to share family and social responsibility for all people, including people with disabilities, will become critical in post-pandemic times.
References (if not hyperlinks in text):
Brink, G. van den (April, 6, 2020). Gaat de coronacrisis een maatschappelijke verandering teweeg brengen? (Brings the corona crisis a systems change?). Retrieved from: https://www.volkskrant.nl/columns-opinie/gaat-de-coronacrisis-een-maatschappelijke-verandering-teweeg-brengen~b6f0f6a3/
Brown, I. , Brown, R. I. and Schippers, A. (2019). A Quality of Life Perspective on the New Eugenics. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 16: 121-126. doi:10.1111/jppi.12299
European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (April, 8, 2020). The COVID-19 outbreak and Support Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from: