Reflections on accessibility in a global pandemic
Danielle Spence, blogger at Disabled Danielle, brings us today's guest blog and a personal reflection on what the last year has taught her about accessibility.
It might sound silly, but the idea of making my presence known and truly being seen by society has always terrified me. Before the pandemic, leaving the house was a relatively rare occasion, unless for very specific and well-planned social events. It’s very easy to argue that this is nothing but a consequence of mental illness, which is something that I have spent a long time hating myself for, though the current climate has taught me that my struggles aren’t so simple. Until recently, I have never given myself the space to analyse or understand these feelings, instead just internalising them as being personal failings. However, with all of the accommodations that have been made over the past year, I find myself wondering why they can’t be more commonplace. As an example: I’m in my twenties and have always felt completely overwhelmed by the idea of having a job, not because I don’t desire to succeed and make a difference, but because I’m so worried that I don’t have enough to offer that would make employer flexibility worthwhile. With that said, this pandemic has made working from home more socially acceptable, including virtual meetings and general connectivity.
When I became very unwell at the final hurdle of my postgraduate degree (before the pandemic started getting serious), I asked if I could take my classes online. In short, I was told that it would be “too complicated” and “unfair on everyone else”, which eventually led me to quit. Therefore, it was both heartbreaking and insulting when the world changed, meaning that everything was moved online with relative ease. Interestingly though, this sends a very clear message: disabled people’s needs are unimportant unless they simultaneously benefit non-disabled people. Otherwise, we’re not welcome. Nobody will be disappointed if our voices remain unheard, because giving us a platform for opportunity only makes them uncomfortable.
The same sentiment can also be applied to our social lives, too. If we ever have dinner together, let me promise you that I will spend literal hours beforehand making sure that the accessibility is easy to manage, after some horrifically embarrassing experiences where this has not been the case. I mean, why am I the one embarrassed about this? It’s really not hard to put some level of effort into making sure that every space is inclusive. The reality is that disabled people are not expected to have social lives. The people with the power to change this don’t have disabled friends, probably because we are generally considered to be difficult or flaky to be around, if others can’t understand when we cancel plans last-minute. As an example: when my older sister was getting married, she decided that the family would go out for a meal to celebrate her hen do. She has known me for her entire life, so was no stranger to making all of the necessary phone calls, ensuring that the restaurant would be wheelchair friendly. When we arrived, however, there was no accessible entrance. Although I managed to get in, with help from my mum and aunties, I got stuck on the way out. What happened next was mortifying and actually a little bit traumatic, but needless to say that I didn’t go back for about five years.
However, I have had enough of this narrative, truly. Disabled people deserve to be seen and our presence matters. Even when things are safe again, why shouldn’t there be virtual options that make everyone feel included? We have not had the same pandemic experience as non-disabled people, but we can make sure that we are never made to feel invisible again. We are not asking for too much, as proven by the fact that change is okay when it allows everyone else to avoid remaining stagnant. This fight is not easy, and the lessons are not easy to unlearn. I am still trying every day. It’s worth it, though. We are never alone.
Over to you:Many thanks to Danielle for sharing with us her personal and thought-provoking piece. The pandemic has definitely exposed how feasible many adjustments were for disabled people all along and I hope one outcome of this sad time is increased awareness, and willingness, to accommodate the needs of all - not just the many.
- What do you think?
- Has the pandemic put anything into perspective about your experience as a disabled person?
- Do you think positive changes will come out of this time?
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