As the COVID pandemic drags on, people are going through the emotions of feeling isolated, missing pre-pandemic life, wanting to hug loved ones again and struggling to adjust to this new reality. For many of us, this feels like a brand-new world to try to survive in. For others, it’s a familiar reality that the bulk of people have not understood. People living with disabilities have struggled with isolation, missing a previous life, wishing things would return to normal and trying to adjust to a new reality. For most of them, COVID is just another layer to everyday life.
A person can be disabled in a variety of ways and each person’s experience or struggle is different but there are a lot of similarities to what the majority are experiencing with COVID. When a person with disabilities goes out, there can be the limitations of needing the right equipment. When dealing with COVID, it can be the limitations of needing a mask.
When approaching a store, someone who needs a scooter or walker may question about if or how they can get into the store. They might wonder: “Is there a wheelchair ramp? Is anything blocking the way of the open-door button? Is there any other obstacle in my way?” With COVID we approach a store and wonder, “Do I have my mask? Does everyone with me have a mask? How many people are allowed in at a time? Will I have to wait? Is there another door to leave through?”. Once inside, there is now a question about mobility.
Someone in a scooter might worry about bumping into displays, being able to fit in an aisle, or backing into someone if there is limited space. With COVID, now we are following arrows on the floor trying to navigate our way to the aisle we want. We worry about trying to keep away from people while shopping. We are upset when people stop to talk in the middle of the aisle, blocking our way and making it impossible to navigate around them while keeping six feet apart. For us the inconvenience is new; to a person with disabilities it might have been a constant frustration that went completely unseen. Unfortunately, this is only scratching the surface of similarities.
The majority of people will agree to the frustration and inconvenience of having to wear a mask. It’s difficult not being able to properly communicate with the other person we are talking to. It seems like someone’s voice is always muffled. For a person who has suffered a stroke, has autism or another form of mental or physical disability, the struggle to communicate can be constant. It is frustrating to try to learn how to communicate when your mouth can no longer properly form words, or you can’t hear most of the conversation. For someone who is deaf, it might be frustrating going out and not having people understand sign language. For some people with disabilities, their disability is their “mask” that they can not take off at anytime and a reality that must be accepted because for most of them, it’s not going away.
A person might have an “invisible” disability, aka one that is not immediately seen. This might be because of loss of sight or hearing, mental health issues, cognitive issues or some other disability. Sometimes their disability is called into question and they are accused of faking it. Sometimes people are inconsiderate or do not offer help because they don’t understand that there is a need. With COVID, a person who is vulnerable due to a weak immune system or other health problems might be accused of faking vulnerability when they struggle to wear a mask or refuse to stop strict self-isolation. They might not be taken seriously when asking people to be considerate and keep their distance. Their vulnerability is invisible and not respected as an obvious one would be.
Last but not least, almost everyone is struggling with isolation. The isolation may be because of self-isolation, loss of a job or lockdown restrictions. It doesn’t matter the reason, the affects can be damaging to our mental health, our physical health and our social skills. People are struggling with depression, loneliness, weight gain and the feeling of being unable to properly interact. Many people are losing their jobs, having to adjust to doing them differently or losing their businesses. It’s hard to deal with and the majority of us are holding our breath waiting for the day we can get back to “normal”.
Sadly, this has been a huge obstacle for many people with disabilities. The result of having a disability might mean the loss of a job or having to readjust to a new way of doing a former job. For some, it has meant the loss of a business. Without proper equipment, a person might not be able to get outside of the house or even be able to navigate their own home. Improper equipment can cause sores, increase risk of physical injury or create frustration with everyday life. Isolation due to a disability can cause depression, loneliness and a lack of social interaction. The list of tolls and challenges can go on and on.
While this article has mainly focused on the negatives of the similarities between COVID and having a disability, that does not form the whole picture. Many people with disabilities have faced these difficulties and have risen to the challenge of adjusting to their reality.
t might be finding a new job that they can do, inventing new ways of doing hobbies or learning a new skill to help them communicate. For many, it has inspired them to help others who are struggling. When COVID is finally in the past and people are creating their new normal, hopefully the lessons learned during COVID will inspire us to keep thinking outside of the box and help others in need. Hopefully, we will be more considerate of others around us with visible or invisible disabilities.
Thankfully, with the help of non-profit organizations such as Langley Pos-Abilities Society, the ability to help others in need starts now. It can be as simple as donating or volunteering but it helps to create a better future for those who need a “hand up, not a hand-out.”
By Kaleigh Burnet.
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