Covid-19: It feels odd to say this is the upside of this terrible, horrific thing that's happening.
Listen to the podcast below:
Transcript of the podcast:
Narration: Hi, it's Carey from JFA Purple Orange. I've been ringing people who live with disability to hear what their experience of the Coronavirus pandemic has been.
Carey: Hi Jane, how are you?
Jane: Good, good.
Carey: Great. So thanks for taking my call today.
Narration: One of the first people I spoke with was Jane Gersch. And she told me something that I found kind of surprising.
Jane G: A lot of what's happening now to many in the world is very similar to what happened to me over 20 years ago.
Narration: She said she felt like she'd already lived through this experience when she had an accident that led to a traumatic brain injury.
Jane G: Isolation for instance, that was huge when I had the accident. I lost my job. I had no income of my own. I had no control. You know you just learn to deal with it every day and you're the only person, whereas at the moment it's affecting everybody. So when I’ve been faced with what we’ve been facing now, I just think it’s a walk in the park.
Narration: There was a common theme among everyone I spoke with. Next you'll hear from Belle Owen, Jane Quirk, Nick Schumi and Debra Carlyon.
Belle: Disability a lot of the time is compromise and flexibility and adapting and changing, and problem solving. You know, all of the things that are helpful with dealing physically and mentally with a pandemic. It’s kind of in your toolkit.
Jane Q: Maybe it's having a bigger impact on people that don't live with disability because I find that as people with disability every day we have to problem solve, every day we have to figure something out.
Nick: People with disabilities are definitely more able to sort of go with the flow a lot because there are a lot of people that rely on other people to do a lot of things to assist them with. So if something happened, and things would have to change on the fly, whether it's one of your workers couldn't attend or something had to change for whatever reason, people with disabilities are used to things being a bit sort of all over the place sometimes. It makes us more equipped to deal with what's going on.
Debra: Some friends that don't have a disability, they seem to be really upset that they can't do this and can't do that. But I don't think that, so I've had more and more things that I haven't been able to do. And more and more places I haven't been able to go independently so I guess that it's made me better equipped to deal with this.
Narration: So literally everybody I talked to told me a version of the same thing, that their lived experience of disability made them really well positioned to be able to handle the Coronavirus pandemic. But then Debra, the last person you just heard from, said something else that I found really intriguing.
Debra: Now we've got a lot more access to things like Skype. And actually a lot of us in some ways are better off than we were before.
Narration: I mean, could it really be that many people living with disability are actually better off than they were before?
Well, it didn't take long at all to find somebody who could absolutely validate this claim.
Ricky: Yeah, I’ve had like the busiest weeks that I've had for a really, really long time.
Narration: That's Ricky Buchanan. For over 20 years, she's been mostly homebound and bedridden. Those are the word she uses to describe her situation.
As many Australians have found their social lives becoming very quiet due to the strict social distancing measures. Ricky's been having the opposite experience.
Ricky: It's just amazing. All of these things that I've been campaigning and struggling to make available for 20 years has suddenly popped up and become available. For example, there was no chance that concerts could be made accessible online because intellectual property laws just made that impossible. That there was no chance that film festivals could become online. And I’ve been to three orchestral concerts and two film festivals in the last two weeks online. They've just magically become online because now everyone else needs them.
It feels very odd to kind of say this is the upside of this terrible horrific thing that's happening, because, of course I wish the terrible horrific thing had not happened. But it is happening and my gaining advantage or not gaining advantage isn't going to change it either way.
Narration: But there was a dark side to this newfound accessibility.
Ricky: The first Melbourne Symphony Orchestra concert that was online, I couldn't even enjoy it. I just literally laid here in my bed and sobbed.
All of us always knew that when people said this is impossible, that it was a lie. Everyone knows nothing is actually impossible in that way. That if there was enough political will, that these things were possible. But it's very, it's very hurtful to have it ground in, sort of ground into your face that all those things that we were told for so long were impossible weren't even really very difficult when actually people cared about them. It was just that no one cared about us. Society probably hasn't even noticed that it has suddenly made itself more accessible to bedridden and homebound people.
Narration: And that's what really terrifies her. Because all of this accessibility, it wasn't by design. It was just a byproduct of the pandemic. And so when it's safe for everybody to go back to work, and go back out to restaurants and cafes and concerts, is all of this just going to disappear?
Ricky: Like, what do you do when all the stuff you've advocated for lands in your lap temporarily, and then gets taken away again, like, that's really hard to deal with.
Narration: You know, if all of this accessibility does disappear, Disability Advocates will have a strong card in their hand
Ricky: When companies say no, that's impossible. Now we can say, but you did that, in 2020, you did that. It will be much harder for them to argue that it's an unreasonable accommodation to request.
Narration: But Ricky's also hopeful that maybe now people will be a little bit more aware and understanding.
Ricky: I think a lot more people in society now realise it's really hard when you can't go out and you're excluded from everything.
Although being locked down, or in quarantine isn't the same as being long-term homebound, but it will give people a bit more of a glimpse of what our lives are like. And hopefully that will come with a bit more compassion and maybe that will help them understand why I need and people like me need accommodations like this.
Narration: So just take a moment to let this all sink in. Not only are many people living with disability really well equipped to handle the Coronavirus pandemic, but some are actually feeling more connected because of the different types of access that have emerged from this. So as Australia starts to ease its social distancing restrictions, let's not lose the silver lining of accessibility.
We'd really like to hear about any of your experiences during this time, the good, the bad and everything in between. So if you have a story you'd like to share, please get in touch.
You can comment on our purple orange Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.purpleorange.org.au
You can also give us a ring on 08 8373 8388.