While the world is adapting to a whole new set of rules and restrictions because of COVID-19, something unusually positive is happening for the disabled and chronically ill community.
Instead of feeling limited and restrained like everyone else, many members of my community, including myself, are instead feeling more a part of society and our local communities than we ever have before.
From the regular video calls with friends and family to the accessibility of working from home, the world has curiously become… more accessible to us than ever. It's bizarre to be feeling as though some kind of utopian society has suddenly hit us, when everyone else around me seems to be finding it extremely difficult to adhere to a life they feel to be restricting.
From the regular video calls with friends and family to the accessibility of working from home, the world has curiously become… more accessible to us than ever.
Let me explain. Before this all began, people with disability or chronic illness faced a wealth of challenges caused by our conditions. Many of us lost our jobs or put ourselves through enormous harm in order to keep working, because we were told it was not acceptable for us to work from home. We would often have to miss social events, instead sitting at home feeling frustrated, lonely, and dealing with intense FOMO (fear of missing out). Asking friends to participate in some kind of group video call often felt like asking them to complete an enormous, boring chore.
If we did leave the house, we would sometimes face discrimination for either looking too sick, or not sick enough. Ever tried parking in a disabled park when your disability isn’t visible? Too often, loud vigilantes confront you; many chronically ill and disabled friends of mine say they avoid using disability parking spaces because the possibility of conflict is too high, and they simply don’t want to risk being screamed at. Those of us who are immunocompromised have faced discrimination, cruel comments, challenges or judgemental looks, just for wearing masks and gloves to protect our bodies while trying to get our groceries just like everyone else.
Now the world seems to be a little more understanding, or at the very least, more accessible to us. Strangely, it’s the world we’ve always dreamed of, despite it being due to a devastating pandemic and it being highly dangerous for us all to step outside.
No one bats an eyelid as I saunter through my local IGA with gloves and my favourite face mask on, and friends of mine with permits for their cars say people seem less inclined to comment or shoot them snarky looks as they pull into a disability parking space.
Video calls are the new standard; I now Facetime with friends and family multiple times a week. It’s heaven! It’s also totally normal to message some friends and ask them if they’d like to jump on a Zoom call tonight to do a few rounds of trivia over a few glasses of wine, all from the comfort of our own living rooms.
At previous workplaces, my requests to work from home would be denied, even with letters from my doctors.
Working from home is also the new normal for many of us. At previous workplaces, my requests to work from home would be denied, even with letters from my doctors. Managers would tell me it ‘wasn’t possible’ – turns out it is! (Just like I, ahem, always knew it was.)
My current workplace is luckily supportive of me working from home at any time, which I’m very thankful for. Not only do I have a desk set up ergonomically and specifically for my condition, I’m also able to properly do my daily physical and mental exercises essential for management of my chronic illness during my lunch break, or the hours I used to spend commuting. I’m more productive, better rested, healthier and happier. Hopefully, the pandemic forcing companies to adapt to remote work will prove that working from home can have positive effects and is not only possible, but can actually improve performance, happiness and health for some of us!
Even online shopping and home deliveries have become more accessible to those of us with immune issues – companies and postal workers are offering safer methods of delivery in order to avoid contracting or passing on any communicable illnesses.
Last but certainly not least, the world seems to be making itself more available to us than ever before. Accessibility has prevented so many in my community from being able to experience things that others take for granted: going to concerts, restaurants and bars, zoos and aquariums, sporting events, and much, much more.
Now, zoos and aquariums have live video feeds of the animals that you can watch 24/7. Chefs are streaming instructional videos of them cooking their restaurant’s most beloved recipes regularly, as well as sharing their home cooking recipes so you can make nutritious, comforting food yourself. Bars and pubs are delivering booze to keep money coming in during closures, and many are also holding trivia and karaoke nights over video conference calls that patrons can dial into. Musicians are holding digital music festivals on Instagram, so you can watch your favourite artists without having to risk a pain flareup by standing in a jostling, tumultuous crowd. Even new movies are hitting streaming services faster, since cinemas are closed.
Musicians are holding digital music festivals on Instagram, so you can watch your favourite artists without having to risk a pain flareup by standing in a jostling, tumultuous crowd.
I hope you know these feelings aren’t without sensitivity and empathy; I want to clarify that I know this is a really difficult and scary time for everyone, and I of course acknowledge that this awful pandemic is hurting and killing people, as well as having devastating impacts on marginalised groups and general mental health. I suppose what I’m saying is that I hope the pandemic ends quickly and no one is in danger anymore, but I hope that once it’s over, that this big, bright, glorious world my community finally has access to isn’t taken away.
When the pandemic finishes and isolation is over, most will get to go back to the lives they so dearly miss, but this is our lives all the time. Please help keep them accessible, and help us stay an active part of the world once everything goes back to normal.
What Does Australia Really Think About… premieres 8:30pm Wednesday, 18 August on SBS and SBS On Demand. The three-part series continues weekly. Episodes will be repeated at 10.15pm Mondays on SBS VICELAND from 23 August.
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