The UK has been in and out of national lockdowns of varying degrees for over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with non-essential shops opening and closing more frequently than a lift with an abled who didn’t want to make room for a wheelchair-user blocking the door. It’s been difficult for almost everyone, especially people who work at or run small businesses, and with things beginning to open back up again as of April 12th 2021 some small semblance of normality is about to rear its ugly head.
For most people, going back to “normal” is the dream. Indeed, I’m very much looking forward to visiting my favourite Pagan-supplies shop, grabbing coffee with a friend, and getting a haircut so that I no longer resemble a teenage Justin Bieber. However, for both disabled people and introverts who are now having to find excuses not to socialise again, difficult times lie ahead.
For decades, disabled people have been told by employers that allowing them to work from home is too complicated to be feasible, and schools have said similar things in regards to remote learning. Then, at the drop of a bat (not a typo), almost everyone was working from home. The difficulties of commuting as a disabled person evaporated, and the time saved by not travelling gave us time to look after our health. The number of days I have had to call in sick to work have dramatically reduced because, on the occasions when I was too ill to be able to drive my wheelchair safely, I didn’t have to. Sometimes I could work in my pyjamas, have a nap at lunchtime, and still be productive. It was only on the days when I couldn’t even sit upright that I couldn’t do something to help out or irritate my colleagues.
I am extremely fortunate in that my employer has recognised the benefits of remote working and, as offices begin to open up, are incorporating a more flexible arrangement that allows people to work from home sometimes. However, most employers are simply reverting back to their old way of working, and disabled employees are suddenly having to deal with problems that haven’t bothered them for over a year.
The benefits of remote communication extend beyond employment, too. Telephone appointments have saved me many trips to the doctor and hospital (except for the smear test, which can’t really be done remotely), and for those with compromised immunity not having to sit in a stuffy waiting room full of coughing people has probably saved lives. Now, however, healthcare providers are removing the option for telephone appointments and the old way of working has resumed, which with this being healthcare, has a disproportionately negative impact on disabled people.
Of course, there are still some measures in place to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. Due to the fact that the virus is apparently agoraphobic, pubs and cafes are only permitted to have outdoor dining. In order to make the most money and compensate for the months of losses, this means that outdoor dining facilities have been permitted to take over entire pavements. What was an admittedly common problem prior to lockdown has now become an overwhelming one; disabled people cannot safely use pavements without becoming tangled in chair legs, and the few places where we can cross a road safely have been blocked.
What is deemed back to normal for most people is the removal of accessibility options for disabled people, and can even amount to an increase in inaccessibility. Disabled people want things to go back to normal as much as everyone else, but after being offered a tantalising glimpse of a world where we can be accommodated, the gains in accessibility are now being torn away from us and it hurts. It hurts to see that our needs are not as important as the needs of able-bodied people. It hurts to see that even considering the existence of disabled people has, if anything, decreased during lockdown. It hurts to see the gains we fought so hard for slipping through our fingers.
Normal service will be resumed, and that’s not entirely a good thing.