Lockdown has given us an opportunity to revise our idea of normal to keep it accessible and inclusive.
As the vaccine rollout continues and an end to public health restrictions is possibly in sight, people are starting to talk about getting ‘back to normal’, and how great it will be to meet in person.
This terrifies me.
Don’t get me wrong. Along with most others, I am desperate to hug my friends, travel to see my family, and share a cake with my closest pals.
But the moving of life online over the last year has opened up incredible opportunities for me as a disabled person. Before the pandemic, when I worked at home I was the lone remote figure in meetings, hastily Skyped in on someone’s phone, often forgotten.
For me to attend even something like a parent council meeting for me involved budgeting time and childcare, physically getting to the building, physically accessing the building, and comfortably sitting for the length of the meeting. Not only does this cause pain, it lowers my ability to then contribute to that meeting. Online meetings are so very much more accessible.
Now I can attend community and professional events so much more easily, and focus my capacity on learning, on contributing, and on helping others. The idea of this accessible format being removed makes me scared.
Who is your event format disabling?
I’m not saying that everything should stay entirely online forever. Different formats disable different people. (For more on this, I wrote a blog last week about who might be being disabled by different approaches.)
Online meetings and events disable some individuals – sometimes from within the same groups.
- Someone with a physical impairment might be disabled by the need for links and screens, moving between chat boxes etc.
- A neurodivergent person might be disabled by the constant change in screens and the distractions present in their home.
- A parent might be disabled because they don’t have quiet space in their home to attend an event.
However, in person meetings and events also disable some people:
- Someone with a physical impairment might be disabled because they can’t physically get to the event.
- A neurodivergent person might be disabled by the overwhelming sensory environment.
- A parent might be disabled because they don’t have childcare.
(As a side note, this doesn’t mean they are necessarily completely unable to access the event, but that it causes them pain to do so. It’s another facet of why we can’t just describe something as ‘accessible’ or ‘not accessible’.)
The concept of ‘normal’ causes othering
Mixing and matching in-person and online events is perhaps a great way to manage this, and minimises how your overall offering is disabling people.
What concerns me is the concept of ‘normal’; the idea that we need to return to ‘normal’ when we can, and that ‘normal’ means meeting in person.
As a logical extension of that, the suggestion is that online meetings are ‘abnormal’; that a format that meets the accessibility needs of many people is abnormal. This contributes to the othering of disabled people; the concept of an ‘accessible’ version and a ‘normal version’, and it’s not ok.
[If you’ve never heard of the concept of othering, this article from VeryWellMind defines it well.]
In the last year, the disabled community – many of whom have been shielding so not allowed to leave the house for long periods – have been given access to areas of life previously denied them.
Please don’t take this away.