Digital solutions during the pandemic have put people with disabilities on an equal footing. Don’t forget us when it’s over
This opinion piece is by John Loeppky, a disabled artist and freelance writer/editor in Regina. For more information on CBC Opinion Sectionplease consult the FAQs.
I sometimes think of those of you who are so zealous about getting back to pre-pandemic “normal”.
I imagine you sitting in a bar, smiling with joy at the thought of returning to your non-disabled version of utopia. It’s always a packed event. All the tables are so high that no manual wheelchair like mine can hope to reach them. Everyone is maskless, engaging in chatter meant for no good at unholy speed and volume.
Have they forgotten us? Regardless, I know they did. I know you did.
In your relentless attempts to return to the past, you have forgotten almost a quarter of the population, like me, who wants opportunities to engage. I’m talking about the disability community.
Many of us don’t want to close Zoom and go back to your “normal” version. Our existence was not valued there. It was often not even recognized.
The price of your inconvenience
You will more than likely become disabled during your lifetime. Whether you identify yourself this way is up to you. Father Time is undefeated and Uncle Disability is not far behind.
You’re selling yourself a lie that you’re different from us, that you won’t have to worry about those pesky pre-existing conditions, that your healthy body will carry you through the pandemic, and that this is all just a temporary fix. to a temporary problem.
To be honest, I can’t really blame you for being so naive.
The pandemic has proven that digital access is possible. It was simply not seen by many as necessary before. Now, like a stage whisper, it’s gone.
We’ve seen you devalue digital as a different, worse, discount version. Sure, Zoom doesn’t need ramps or accessible public transportation, but you still hesitated at the cost of your inconvenience. God forbid that your needs are not centered for five minutes.
Digital access means freedom. It may be flawed, but it’s my version of access in all its glory, disabled, neurodivergent and messy. It’s hard some days to be proud of your disability, to accept a backhanded compliment (“You’re so resilient!”) as the systems try to eradicate you from the planet. Yet here we are.
I don’t mean to be complacent, but here I am.
Disabled people of this generation rely on the internet as one of the only ways to connect – global health crisis or not. Did you really think we wouldn’t notice when you started slipping? Do you really think your event – no matter how creative, groundbreaking or amazing – matters more than keeping people with disabilities alive?
What are you going to do?
I know there are many in the disability community who feel comfortable and need that in-person time. Fair play. But I have to ask: why can’t you create that digital access as well?
I hear you reusing old arguments. It is a question of resources, energy and priorities. I see you desperately scratching accessibility plans. I see you hastily deleting all mentions of recorded sessions. I see you devoting all your resources to face-to-face comfort and convenience.
I don’t see you as an ally, even though your outward personality professes otherwise.
Making things accessible digitally is difficult. You trade one set of obstacles for another. But that’s always the excuse, isn’t it? It’s too hard, it’s too uncomfortable, it could mean you’ve already done something wrong and you’ll need to recognize that you haven’t always created the safest space.
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There are people in our communities who do this work. Look at them. It won’t happen instantly or easily, but it has to happen if we want a more equitable society.
The last time I decided to shout about it, privileged as I am, I wrote, “It’s very hard to watch the adaptations so many of us crave – remote work, live art, delivery of food – become ubiquitous and unchallenged as soon as people need it.”
It’s funny, in an unhealthy way, how cyclical this all is. The non-disabled gives and the non-disabled takes away.
I have hope – I owe it to my own health – that digital access will slowly expand more and more into the collective consciousness, but in many ways it feels like we’ve lost a tremendous opportunity to make seismic changes.
Don’t what are you going to do about it?
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