While most people are looking forward to the end of lockdown and the return to ‘normal life’, I’m dreading the change.
When I became paraplegic after a spinal cord injury three years ago, I was shocked at how many things I’d taken for granted were suddenly inaccessible to me in my wheelchair.
But all that changed when lockdown came into force.
As a full-time wheelchair user, I’ve discovered that the government-imposed rules have made the world more accessible. Lockdown has opened up new opportunities for me, not closed them down.
Suddenly, everything is available online – from theatre presentations where you get the best view in the house (as opposed to that one wheelchair space at the far end of the back row) to a front row seat at an intimate concert from your favourite band. It doesn’t matter if you can’t take the stairs or might need a loo break halfway through.
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Meanwhile, local shops, businesses and even cafés and restaurants have started offering home delivery, which means I can access products I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy before.
I’ve also been able to focus on professional and personal development.
In the past I’ve been unable to attend training courses and lectures because of lack of access, having to travel or due to health issues. It hurts to be left out of things other people can easily take part in.
It makes me feel as if I’m valued less because I’m disabled.
Now, I can spend my mornings learning about social media tactics and documentary production skills, take an afternoon art class and finish off the day with a live meditation session.
It’s also been a joy to be in online meeting rooms with people from all over the country – and on Zoom, everyone’s sitting down.
When I do venture out of the house, things are better in lockdown, too.
Going to the supermarket for my essential shopping becomes a pleasant outing rather than a challenging chore. My husband and I go when we know the shop will be quiet, so there are lots of available disabled parking bays.
And the few people who are in the shop are so busy keeping the maximum space between us that there’s no risk of them ‘helping’ me by grabbing my wheelchair handles.
I’m dreading having to negotiate the outside world when everyone is allowed back out. Being disabled in public means you become public property, on the receiving end of pitying stares and intrusive questions.
With less people around, I can unload my wheelchair from my car without attracting an audience, and take a trip to the park or the post office with nobody around to pass comment on how well – or otherwise – I’m doing it.
Under quarantine, there’s also a sense of community spirit.
Thanks to Facebook groups and neighbourhood support networks, I’ve been able collect fresh rhubarb from atop someone’s hedge, got the inside scoop on where to find flour (the local Post Office) and had multiple offers of help, from collecting prescriptions to dropping off shopping.
Before all this, people were going out to work and getting on with their own lives, and we didn’t see much of each other beyond a wave from behind the steering wheel and drinks at New Year.
But I wonder if this supportive, accessible and connected world will last.
I’m anxious that the end of lockdown will mean I return to being excluded and isolated, while everyone else goes back to their busy lives.
When everyone else is meeting friends in their favourite cosy coffee spots, I’ll be left outside because there are steps at the door, the tables are too close together or there isn’t an accessible toilet.
When people are going back to work and having face-to-face meetings, I’ll be at home wondering why there’s not a virtual option anymore.
Maybe I’m being pessimistic. Maybe we can learn something from the way we’ve been living and the steps that have been taken towards making access a priority.
If it’s possible work from home, give people space in public places and provide online access to arts, culture and education resources, we should keep doing that after this is over.
I want the things that have made my life better in lockdown to be part of our new normal. That’s a future I could look forward to.
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