The Coronavirus is undoubtedly the biggest global crisis since world-war II. People die. People suffer. Livelihoods perish. But this crisis might also open eyes. A simulation of a disabled lifestyle?
So I’m sitting here in my apartment and stretch my head out the window at the same time every single day to savour the sunlight. I figured that from 9.30 until 10 there is usually the best angle of incidence for tanning my scalp. Ivan, my living companion, has only come to experience the full pleasure of this lock down for the past two weeks since he was still expected to work initially. Already, he too, is showing signs of cabin fever. Only 3 more weeks to go: more than enough time to whack out for good.
It is surprising that I myself still take this limitation of mobility in my stride, even though I have one week more on the clock than Ivan. I’m even a little proud of my balanced temper. A small outburst here and there is negligible. On the other hand I do wonder why this lock down hasn’t afflicted me all too much yet.
My explanation: I’m well trained. Even though my physical possibilities are comparatively high due to my low lesion; in the last 18 years I’ve still experienced on a regular basis not to be able to move as freely as I’d like to. I got used to it.
Disability for all
It literally is part of the term: Disability. Being unable to participate – being dis-abled. Right now the majority of the human species is disabled in one way or the other – at least temporarily. Welcome to the club.
For those who already belonged to this illustrious circle before the pandemic, the causes for the average ‚lock down‘ are many and at least partly ascribable to a society that is not prepared for people with disabilities. Apart from lacking physical and mental accessibility, each persons physical limitations mean bigger difficulties when coping with everyday life. Depending on said limitations, showering, getting dressed and other daily activities are already more time-consuming, and in many cases irresolvable without assistance. If we complement this with higher chances of being bedridden, less occupation and less leisure opportunities in general, it should become clear that for disabled people spending a great amount of time inside their own walls is nothing new.
To all those of you who you are getting stir-crazy already, who you don’t know what to do with yourselves during the days of confinement: What a bunch of amateurs you are. Admittedly in times like these the desire of a permanent disability is easily comprehensible. After all we disabled people are the Ronaldos, Williams and Hirschers* of staying at home. But let’s leave your perfectly understandable envy aside and focus on a different aspect.
Luxury from yesteryear
Now, as you are longingly looking out the window; as you are desperately wishing to be active; as you are desiring to do your groceries without any precautions or as you are dreaming to visit the park or a café with some friends.
How does it feel to be unable to full-fill all those wishes? Kind of crappy, I imagine.
All these things that you took for granted until recently and that you are understandibly missing badly right now, they always have been barely achievable luxury to so many disabled people.
An important catchword for a life with disability is acceptance. Nobody is free to do anything and everything they’d like to. That’s life. For disabled people this goes even further or at least it’s more apparent. Going for a climb with friends is impossible for the vast majority of wheelchair users. As hard as this might sound: One has to learn to deal with it. Sometimes one just has to let the friends go for a while.
Peeing or puking?
In terms of cafés and parks though the situation is different. Also for disabled people this should be a matter of course. But it’s not. Say you are strolling through town with friends and spontaneously decide to go for a coffee. Sadly more often than expected physical barriers still put the kibosh on said spontaneity. If you finally manage to enter a cosy place, you’re still not on the safe side yet. A simple sign can still mess up your plans. Let it be an image with stairs and an arrow, pointing out that the crappers are to be found downstairs. Crap. When the next bathroom break is hanging above you like the sword of Damocles, you do consider twice whether you order your next coffee or not. Changing to shots can be a tempting solution. But in spite of a modified exit strategy you end up being confronted with the same problem. To sum it up: From where you can’t pee, you might as well flee. The excursion comes to a sudden end. No exception. This is where acceptance stops.
It can’t happen that social and physical barriers hinder people to have a social life. A social life that includes all those activities you yourself considered banalities until recently. Being out and about. Doing groceries. Visiting family and friends. Please take a minute and think about this the next time you visit your aunt on the third floor without elevator. The coffee, you are having, and the piece of cake – one you could use to drive a nail into the wall – would not be accessible to everybody.
All these lock downs across the world due to the Corona-Pandemic have made disability a mass phenomenon:
More time at home than one would like.
Meticulous planning of every day life.
Forget the labour market.
Hiking – forget it.
Going out – no way Jose.
Chronic distancing – everybody is untouchable.
An imaginary „highly contagious“ sign on your forehead.
Never have there been as many people that close to the lifestyle disability as today.
So even if your disability has an expiration date: Remember that feeling. Because your newly found empathy doesn’t necessarily have to expire. Similar to climate change, this crisis will either be a blessing or a curse. It’s also on you to decide in which direction the pendulum will swing.
* In Austria Marcel Hirscher is famous skiing athlete. 99% of humanity won’t know this but skiing is a sport where you slide down snowy slopes on two planks as fast as you can.