A brief blog about a culture shift in accessibility under #COVID-19 #disability

April 1, 2020 § Leave a comment

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Updated and retitled, this blog has been republished with a new image

So we’re in COVID-19 lockdown.

Many neurodivergent and disabled people are watching, the abled neuro-majority, with fascination.

We are witnessing a moment that is spectacular and beyond our wildest imaginings. The tragedy is that it’s taken a lethal pandemic to create the culture shift we need. Accessible work norms are being adopted on a global scale, when many of us have struggled to gain basic access accommodations so much closer to home. That this is so brings a sense of awe, the scale of which (like the pandemic itself) is almost impossible to grasp. For once, we really are all in this together. Many will want to say, welcome to lockdown! Welcome to our world.

This is the moment to say that not all neurodivergents or disabled people are the same, and that some of us are extrovert, highly mobile, and need frequent ‘real time’ social contact.  We do, however, all face barriers to participation in our daily lives (including stigma).

In this moment the variously identifying stay-at-home veterans are looking at you. As you join us in your vast number, we gasp. As you struggle to adjust to lockdown, we can only gawp in wonder. You’ll finally know what it is to live with restricted mobility, but will you even consider us? What will you learn? And when the nightmare is over, will you still remember?

In the UK Spring has sprung. I sit writing this piece by my widow. My neighbour’s cherry tree is almost in blossom and the sky is picture-perfect blue. I noticed yesterday that the birds are returning. No aeroplane trails cut through this pristine sky. It’s as virgin as untrod snow. Our planet heaves an audible sigh of relief, and on one level so do the normally-stranded.  My usual status is more out-and-about than some, but staying at home is the best way I can avoid the significant impact of sensory stress.

Yesterday I visited an adult autistics’ social support group via Zoom for the first time. It was magnificent. What pleased me beyond the ease of this technology were the clear rules of engagement. Our facilitator also directed the flow of conversation like a skilled traffic cop (in a good way.) Not that the traffic was heavy, and all of the drivers followed the rules. No jams and no confusion. Text chat options enabled multi-modal yet simultaneous group dialogue to take place, and one of us chose to participate with sound only. The advantages quickly become obvious. Avoiding the sensory assault of travel, and access to a greater number of communication options make meetings not only do-able, but also without negative impact. This is revolutionary. This is the layer the abled neuro-majority need to know about and understand.

At the close we talked briefly about this moment, and I feel it must be spoken about more widely and acknowledged. As the abled neuro-majority scramble to adjust, I admit to a feeling of calm in this respect, though I fear the virus greatly.

As I process all the implications I wobble, but I don’t fall down. For now, I’m distracting from the horror of COVID-19 by gazing at our new world order and wondering how this access story will play out.

You can find my tips for online networking in my previous blog post.  You can also find out about my art practice here.   I’m @s_boue on Instagram and @SoniaBoue on Twitter.

NB. I’ve chosen to republish this blog post. I can no longer distract from this pandemic by thinking about access issues, but nonetheless the moment it captures is important. I hope we can all learn the lessons COVID-19 brings.

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