A compelling account of the disabled experience of attending classes during COP26.
COP26 was, in many ways, the best and worst thing for me as a disabled person. An event where global leaders and the world’s biggest thinkers come together to come up with the perfect solution to fix a disastrous climate problem? You would hope that some of the highest authorities of the nations would be able to come up with a sustainable and accessible way to host these events. Alas, this was not the case. COP26 did everything wrong… but also somehow managed to do some things right.
"COP26 did everything wrong… but also somehow managed to do some things right."
As expected, COP26 was a reminder of how inaccessible the world is, and how accessibility and inclusivity is of little importance in the minds of those who have the authority to make real change. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they just don’t care. The event left disabled officials abandoned on the doorstep of significant COP26 conferences, and had to turn people away due to venues not being accessible. It is truly a tragedy that in a massive event with hundreds of staff, not one of them thought about the world’s biggest minority group: disabled people, and disabled officials at that. What does this mean for disabled people and the world, if not that their needs are abysmally overlooked?
During COP26, the little people (meant in more ways than one) were affected – transport for me was a horror, as I was left waiting outside for hours because I was not considered a priority, not when so many other people needed it and were flooding to use its services. Every day it seems that I come to the realisation that the world is less accessible than I thought, and now the bar must be incredibly low because, in other ways, COP26 felt like a godsend.
"Every day it seems that I come to the realisation that the world is less accessible than I thought, and now the bar must be incredibly low because, in other ways, COP26 felt like a godsend."
Having to return to in-person lectures after a year and a half of complete freedom was difficult to say the least (more on the disabled student experience can be found in a past article I wrote). It was as if I’d woken up from a delightful dream into a neverending nightmare. Due to COP26 making transport terrible for able-bodied people and near-impossible for disabled people, classes moved back online. It was like some semblance of the last year had been called back to me, and I had never felt more liberated.
Though, this in itself was stressful. A lecturer for one of my courses, who was very vocal in their preference for in-person lectures, decided not to keep us updated until the last second. This was a headache as I needed to make special arrangements due to my disability but could not make them. Many days of constant refreshing of email inboxes later, I finally got a break. It was frustrating, to say the least - even the best possible option for me was an insufficient one. When I finally got a physical reprieve, the mental anxiety of not knowing what provisions I needed were incredibly stressful.
When it came time to take part in the online class, it was like I was finally me again. The me that was more than just my condition, and the me that I had pretty much abandoned the past few months. Zoom anxiety is very much a thing, but to many disabled people, the anxiety resides in the fear that it will be taken away from us. Each celebration about in-person successes hides the worry that the needs of disabled people will be taken away to satiate the wants of able-bodied people.
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