This year has presented opportunities as well as challenges for young disabled people. For Inform, Issy Orosz explores what it’s been like living through those challenges and their hope for a more accessible future.
We have been told time and time again that this is an unprecedented time with unprecedented challenges. It isn’t notable to say that our lives today are completely unrecognisable when compared to even February this year. The things that bring purpose to my days, weeks and months all sit comfortably within a small rectangle on my computer screen, with my name and pronouns at the bottom.
The impact of internet connections, new software and Zoom fatigue has been significant, especially for disabled young people. As a disabled young person myself, who also has the pleasure of working to support other disabled young people, I have had considerable opportunity to reflect on the role, effect and influence this new online world has had on my community.
I want to start by saying this has absolutely not been all bad. For a lot of people, the overstimulation and inaccessibility of real life environments like work and school are now far more in their control. The ability to click ‘leave meeting’ is readily available and frequently used. We have overall been far more creative and considerate—imagining the world in an entirely new format has been an amazing opportunity to learn more about the tools we have at our disposal.
Finding the silver linings
As someone working in the youth sector delivering programs and workshops, the shift to virtual meetings has, in many cases, been far more successful than it would have been otherwise. Eliminating inaccessible commutes and facilities, being able to more effectively communicate and reach people who would have been more disengaged previously and placing more of the control in the hands of disabled young people has been a great process for growth and learning. I have met and worked with people I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the forced transition to online connection. And I feel really lucky for that connection. I can also contend that I have learnt more about the digital space and the role it plays in the lives of disabled people. I am grateful for this understanding and knowledge.
With these ‘silver linings’ in mind, I do believe it is important to allow ourselves to reflect on and process some of the hardships we have been forced to endure due to online engagement. As someone who is easily overstimulated and finds it incredibly hard to process auditory information due to some of my disabilities, not having additional cues and information about what is going on has been overwhelmingly frustrating.
Through no fault of my own, nor of the people I was talking to, entire Zoom calls and online classes have been completely evacuated from my memory as my brain was not able to understand what was happening enough for retainment. This is hard but it makes sense, and I know this now. Online meetings being less generous with breaks has also meant chronic pain flares and spouts of disassociation were more powerful as I wasn’t confident enough to turn on my mic in a Zoom room full of silent faces to communicate that I needed those breaks.
But I believe I am a stronger advocate for what I, and other disabled young people, need after existing in a context I have never been in before.
Accessibility journey continues
I know that online and blended models for program and services delivery are available, and can be even more accessible.
I know that there are no excuses for excluding people from opportunities due to physical limitations.
I know that the abled world has ways to go in making online platforms more accessible. But that because we were forced to rely on them, that work is happening more quickly.
I know that it is okay to recognise that some parts of this pandemic were awful, and that some parts were breaths of fresh air.
I know that the world isn’t going to look the same as it did for us ever again, and I know that I am grateful for that.
I know that any and all access needs and adjustments are entirely reasonable and feasible, because the world was forced to make them happen almost overnight.
I can’t tell you what my job working with disabled young people will look like in a few years or even a few months’ time. What I can tell you however, is that it is going to be informed by the forced learnings of COVID-19. It will be more transformative, accessible, creative, and I will be honoured to keep exploring that world. I don’t want to go back to an entirely ‘normal’ time. Because back then it felt like it was acceptable to ignore preferences and needs. I want to keep learning. And I am not going to stop just because of ‘double donut days’ or the comfort of ableds. This journey isn’t over.
Issy Orosz is a 17-year-old queer, disabled person who works in the disability and youth sector with fellow disabled young people. They are currently completing year 12 with the goal of studying arts at university in the coming years. They like to write about different aspects of their life whether in formal or poetic styles, about things such as disability and their other identities. Website: https://issyhaywriting.webnode.com