I have been shielding since March due to my immuno-compromised state from MS-related treatments. Eight months gives one more than ample time to think about how this pandemic has affected everyone. Still, as a disabled person, I have naturally honed in on some interesting societal coping mechanisms that have been beneficial for those with all kinds of disabilities.
When the pandemic began, I, for one, thought it was going to be just three weeks of lockdown and that life would return to normal. Little did I know that three seasons later, I would still be largely staying in. I’m avoiding contact with anyone that could be carrying COVID-19; delivery drivers, my daughter’s friends, the electrician that comes in every year to get the heat going, the meter reader from the gas company, and so on.
I’m sorry for all those who have suffered from this pandemic. Especially for those who have lost loved ones, jobs, and peace of mind. Young people that have missed important milestones; starting their lives at University, getting married, getting employment, and putting their education to work. These musings, though, have led me to think about how many of the things that non-disabled people have lost, is something that the disabled or, as I like to say, the “differently-abled” community had no access to in the first place. Many of the adaptations that have been made with the majority of people in mind have been hugely beneficial for those who have not been considered at all in the past.
In March, two of the poetry workshops that I could only occasionally attend, based on the venue, whether it had steps to enter the building and a loo that isn’t located three flights down from the main level, went online. Suddenly I could see all of my friends and fellow writers on one screen. It was amazing, and for me, it was close enough to socialising in person, without all of the daunting obstacles, that it was a substitute better than the original! All of my doctor’s appointments, online!Work? Online! Therapy? Online! Book club? Online! I was able to take classes, learn a language, buy groceries, exercise, and get prescriptions, all virtually.
Of course, the knock-on effect of all of these changes should mean that people with disabilities can work from home. It has been reported by the BBC that those who are working from home are equally or more productive, which has led some companies to rethink whether or not they want to have employees EVER return to the office full-time. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54413214 The same could be said for many doctor’s appointments. Is it really necessary for someone with a compromised immune system or a disability that makes it difficult, go to their surgery during flu season for a check-in or just to pick up a prescription?
It also makes sense now that friendships should be nourished, even when one or more of the friends is unwell, disabled, or too tired to dress up and go out! I’ve had several occasions of sharing a glass of wine or coffee with someone virtually, and it was just as much fun. This option has existed for years, but as a culture, we didn’t see it. With a phone, tablet, or computer, ANYONE can connect socially. Technology is incredibly essential for elderly and disabled people, who feel like they are just disappearing. Connection with others is key to a positive mental state. Zoom time!
Another upside of the pandemic is the awareness that if someone is sick, they should stay home, and if they can’t stay home, a mask is crucial. I’ve been through at least thirty-two flu seasons in my adult life, and I have to say that before the pandemic, it never occurred to me to wear a mask to prevent myself or someone else from getting sick. Eureka!
Staying in for so long has certainly had its highs and lows, but I like to think that I now work harder to include everyone, reach out more to check on friends, donate foodstuffs to the local food pantry and work on self-improvement. I have a new laser focus on my family relationships and how the world could be different if some of the changes we’ve seen due to the pandemic become the norm. Everyone should have the right to work, socialise, learn, exercise, laugh…I miss riding my scooter through fallen leaves with the faint smell of woodsmoke in the air, don’t get me wrong, and I certainly do look forward to eating at a restaurant with friends and having a drink or two. Still, I am grateful that there will be some good to come out of this whole thing; we just have to be mindful enough to appreciate it and keep the good things going.
Reach Jennifer at @msunplugged or email@example.com