This year's experiences of people with learning disabilities and autism have been mainly absent in public discourse, especially when it comes to the pandemic. Even though data has shown that people with learning disabilities have been disproportionally affected by Covid-19 – not only in terms of isolation and resulting mental health problems but also in terms of mortality figures.

• See also: ‘Prioritize people with learning disabilities in any vaccination plan, say organisations’
• See also: ‘Covid-19 "shocking statistics" for people with disabilities’
• See also: ‘End the postcode lottery of housing and services, says Learning Disability England’
• See also: ‘What can we learn from lockdown?’

Research uncovers a collective sense of exclusion

Dimensions, an organisation that offers support for people with learning disabilities and autism, commissioned and published the research, which painted a dire picture of the current situation that many people are experiencing.

Isolation was reported by 93%, 76% responded that they have been made to feel that they do not matter, 75% worry that after the pandemic they won’t be able to return to normality, 97% were critical of the Government's response to their needs, and 97% said that more people must understand how the pandemic has affected the lives of people with learning disabilities and autism.

Sarah Walters, Campaigns Manager at Dimensions, said of these findings that: “Our research highlights just how isolating the pandemic has been for people with learning disabilities and autism, with many worried that in the future, they won’t have the same opportunities they had before. Yet, many remain hopeful our society will evolve to be more inclusive. We cannot let them down.”

“Covid-19 can’t be an excuse to sit back and do nothing. Our research should be a wake-up call – the pandemic needs to be a catalyst for change for us to do more to listen to and understand the lives of people with learning disabilities and autism.”

Achievement in the community during 2020

On a more positive note, activists, campaigners, and members of the community have throughout the pandemic been trying to solve the challenges that have been posed by Covid-19. Max Green, who has autism, used his platform as a YouTube blogger to create a ten-part series titled ‘The Autism Connection’ that informed and educated his audience on the impact Covid-19 has had on people with autism.

Another activist Becki Parker, who has autism, was concerned by the slow pace of easy-read versions of critical but ever-changing information on guidelines and information about the pandemic. So, she took matters into her own hands, and dedicated time to work with Inclusion North to produce daily videos and Covid-19 information to ensure that people with learning disabilities and autism were provided with accessible, accurate updates necessary to stay safe.

While Victoria Elizabeth Smith, who has a learning disability, adapted to lockdown by running virtual coffee mornings and socials and starred in her own comedic one-woman show, as part of an online festival. And Kumudu Perera, who has a learning disability, decided to help others by volunteering as a phone buddy at the My Life My Choice Project, which offers friendship and support to people with learning disabilities.