Are we forgetting the valuable lessons about accessibility that have been brought about by the pandemic?
In some ways, lockdowns have been a godsend in terms of accessibility, particularly in the workplace and university. In other aspects, it’s been a nightmare. Of course, for many people who are disabled or chronically or mentally ill, there has been an overarching sense of dread the past couple years. Some like me, though, were just relieved that our lectures were finally recorded – even if I wasn’t allowed past my front door.
Online university has its drawbacks – in all honesty it was draining, and I am so excited to be back on campus. But, as someone who is chronically ill, being able to catch up on lectures easily and attend seminars from home made a huge difference to my learning. I had been waiting for my promised recorded lectures since 2018, and it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for disabled people to be properly considered. For others, the move to working from home had a similar set of advantages, and I know it has made a huge difference to family and friends of mine.
Seeing places open up with a blended approach has also been amazing, with events being hosted both in-person and online, and lectures finally being recorded as standard (yes, I feel very strongly about this). Despite the total misuse of the sunflower lanyard by some, the pandemic has brought a much greater awareness to invisible disabilities like mine. This was in progress before the pandemic; the “not all disabilities are visible” stickers on toilets and lifts around the uni have given me peace of mind when taking the lift one or two stories, or being the dreaded slow walker on University Avenue. Of course, everything is not suddenly perfect, but the awareness brought about by the pandemic has been a big step in the right direction. It has been a breath of fresh air to see some people finally grasp the concept of someone being disabled and not being in a wheelchair all the time. People seem to have a general greater awareness of health and wellbeing as a social issue rather than a personal one.
But, as the campus slow walker, the lessons I thought we had been learning about accessibility seem to have been quickly forgotten the more things open up. I fully understand the need for certain measures, but having every bench taped up in shopping centres or busy streets is a nightmare for disabled people, and an inconvenience for everyone else. One way systems around shops can double or triple the walk to do certain things, making moving around campus, work, or a supermarket a far more energy intensive task than before.
The queues that are still forming outside of shops (where seats have now been taped up) are also very difficult. I have witnessed people I know be sworn at by “supermarket bouncers” for asking if they can go in, sit somewhere, or skip a queue because they physically cannot stand that long. I am worried that as things open up and people are vaccinated, disabled people are once again being overlooked for the sake of convenience for others.
The anxiety for many people trying to return to normal life can be disabling in itself. Some people are not going to be ready or feel safe enough to just jump back into pre-pandemic life, whether they are high-risk, anxious or disabled, and we shouldn’t be making this any much harder than it needs to be. Shop assistants and people working the doors should be considerate and trained to be aware that not everyone will be able to wait in a 20-minute queue to get into a pharmacy, or walk the 15-minute one way route to find a toilet.he public also need to be understanding of the difficulties many disabled or chronically ill people face, too. It is exciting to be returning to some semblance of normal, but it is also terrifying, and I just hope we can bring with us some lessons from the pandemic on accessibility and acceptance, rather than revert back to overlooking others for ease.