Writing this in July of 2021 it has been just over the past sixteen months since our ways of living, working and socializing were transformed in March 2020. Following three progressively intense ways of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada the future is now starting to look brighter. Vaccines are rolling out rapidly here in Canada, people are eagerly lining up for their shots and health restrictions are easing in informed ways in most places. People are starting to make life plans again, businesses reopening and the long-lost hug has returned! We are fortunate here yet the rest of the world still has a ways to go even as we in Canada move to what health officials are calling the endemic phase.
While governments and health authorities have planned out the gradual reopening of all aspects of our society the hardest phase is only beginning, the personal re-opening. Everyone will re-engage with society at their own pace. Comfort levels when it comes to social interaction, and in person services will be highly varied. We have all been through a form of trauma in the last months, in different ways and degrees. Virtual services will continue to be needed and those of us eager to open up again will need to adopt a healthy dose of mindfulness and respect.
People with a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities have been impacted in unique ways by pandemic restrictions. A recent survey by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind captured the experiences of some people living with vision loss. In person services have been disrupted, home visits beyond those most essential stopped, social groups transformed and even the freedom to explore your own local community all become virtual, shut down or a mental risk analysis. Benches and seats disappeared and congregating spaces like malls and community centres closed or became restricted to essential business. The result; alongside keeping people safe from the virus, has been complemented by considerable isolation that itself comes with a unique set of health hazards both mental and physical.
On the flip side some services have become more accessible. At least to those comfortable with technology. Social groups have moved online from virtual travel meet-ups to guitar lessons and knitting circles. Working remote become the norm for most previous office work with the aid of Zoom, Teams and other technologies that helped push business and society into functional online collaboration. This can create more opportunities for people with limited mobility to engage socially and in the working world.
Now, anyone who has been working from home in front of a screen since March 2020 can probably relat to eye strain, Zoom fatigue and for some a loss of social ties that come with going into an office. Consider now anyone with a visual limitation or blindness; that duration and intensity becomes a burden.
Federal support programs to people with disabilities; alongside seniors, have also been very limited over the pandemic. This has left many in more financially precarious positions than they were before the pandemic. Thus their means to engage with re-openings may be more limited than those who may have been had access income support or even been able to save more with reduced travel, work or activity costs. This is certainly not to say anyone has it most difficult; they have lived this experience in different ways and find themselves at the re-opening on different footings. Small business owners for example have navigated considerable uncertainty and may now hold alarming levels of debt, face different but no less challenging realities.
As society continues to re-open let’s all be mindful of the need to be patient, bringing everyone along who may not have the same, means, abilities or experience while respecting their personal pace. The pandemic has introduced some ways of collaborating that enable people with disabilities, such as more work remote options, collaboration technology and e-services. At the same time the human touch is critical to people who may normally live with more isolation, who may have less ability to use technology or just need to find that balance between our real and virtual world.
If you would like further reading on accessibility during COVID-19 and ways to make communities more accessible with recovery programs check out these resources:
Trained in town planning, an avid traveler and legally blind myself I write on issues and opportunities is see along my travels that could improve our cities from a visual perspective.