United From a Distance
"The coronavirus pandemic is a world-changing event, like 9/11. There was a world before, Covid-19. And there will be a world after Covid-19. But it won't be the same." ― Oliver Markus Malloy, What Fox News Doesn't Want You To Know
I'm not going to get all medical with this post about the coronavirus or give you tips on the best way to wash your hands. I'm sure you've heard it all one hundred times by now. I just want to share some things that have been on my mind lately. I find it ironic that it takes a pandemic like a coronavirus (COVID-19) for everyone to start thinking about some of the issues that people with disabilities have been struggling with their whole lives. The feelings of social isolation or complete loneliness, the need for assistive technology that works well for them, accommodations and generally the need for more flexibility in the workplace are all common problems for many people with disabilities.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging all of us to practice social distancing and quarantine ourselves if we feel sick. I just heard Senator Hassan on the news explaining to the New Hampshire public, that she would not be traveling back to New Hampshire from Washington DC because she did not want to compromise the health of her son, who is disabled, and put him at risk. Senator Hassan explained that it is not just about keeping herself from getting COVID-19 but also the fact that the virus could unknowingly be passed on to someone else.
Social isolation may not be easy, but if you are stuck at home with the ones you love most in the world it could be a good thing. I think it's important to take this time to reconnect with each other while everything has slowed down a little. Processing and communication take a little bit longer for some people. In a way, the world has come to a standstill, so use this time to connect with the people that live in your house. This pandemic will end, and everyone will go back to their lives but, for many people with disabilities, isolation and profound loneliness are a part of everyday life but it doesn't have to be that way.
The need for flexibility and workplace accommodations has never been more important than right now during this time of crisis. It's our technology that is helping us to connect with friends, family, and coworkers. (That statement is really funny coming from me, my computer is 11 years old and I still use a flip phone.) I attend several meetings in concord. The first thing I always ask is am I able to participate in the meeting remotely? Sometimes people look at me like I have three heads but, it does save a lot of time, money and energy. When meetings are early in the morning joining this way is my best chance of being on time. Let's face it, it takes me longer to do just about everything: that's the way it is when you need assistance with your basic needs. Sometimes it can be frustrating when people just don't understand what it takes to get from point A to point B. Now that half the world is working remotely from home and routines are changing, flexibility is exactly what is needed. Since I started working at the Institute on Disability my colleagues at work have been very accommodating by agreeing to later meeting times and providing the opportunity to participate in them remotely. Sometimes they will even drive my van if we are working on a presentation together. Some of my friends are afraid to ask for work accommodations, but, as this crisis illustrates, everyone needs accommodations to work every now and then. When this pandemic is in the rearview mirror, I hope everyone will remember how important flexibility and assistive technology is to productivity and full inclusion in the workplace.
From Where I Sit… COVID-19 is a very tough subject to talk about, especially with children, but they will ask questions. Keep your answers simple, age-appropriate, and on subject. It's important to help them feel safe. Find out what they know and what they are confused about. Help dispel any misinformation and fears. Children take emotional cues from the adults in their lives. It is vital that we try to stay calm and let them know why they can't hang out with their friends or go to school. Routines are important for everyone, especially in these chaotic times, but they are even more so for some people with disabilities. Social media can be particularly helpful in staying connected with friends and family. https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/6-ways-parents-can-support-their-kids-through-coronavirus-covid-19.
A crisis like the coronavirus can bring out the best in people. I am very thankful for my amazing family and everyone who supports me. Here are just a few other great examples of support and goodwill happening while we are all doing our best to stay home: Hollywood A-listers reading to kids over the internet, Broadway Producers listening to high school students sing solos from their school musicals, free food for kids at grocery stores and restaurants, online dance parties, and free pizza delivery. We are united from a distance. I hope this change will last.