“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
I have been watching the news, this evening, on television. I cannot be sure, but there is a possibility that I will be one of the 1.5 million people who will receive a letter telling me that I have an underlying health condition that makes me more vulnerable to risk, should I catch the Covid-19 virus. This is because I have chronic asthma, in addition to Parkinson’s. The virus tends to cause pneumonia and so those with respiratory illnesses are more vulnerable to this virus.
I was thinking about how so many people are making changes to their usual way of living and are, alongside those of us who may have to, voluntarily choosing to self-isolate in order to support efforts to close down this virus. There is a truly admirable effort taking place around the country and, certainly, in other countries.
It struck me that there has been no better time for a population of people to consider empathising with those who, through disability, cannot get out of their homes easily, regularly or even at all, under usual circumstances. Think about it. Think about how we have all been reacting to the increasing lack of access to things we may otherwise take for granted.
What has it felt like to not be able to go to the pub? What has it felt like to not be able to get into a building that you usually want or need to get into? What has it been like to be told that you can no longer go to work? What has it been like to live on reduced funds or to have only a limited amount of food? What has it been like to have needs, challenges or difficulties that matter to you but which are overlooked because the needs of the wider population are being considered? What has it felt like to not be able to get your children to school? What has it been like to not have the freedom to take your dogs out for a walk? What has it felt like to have an authority tell you how you will be able to live, rather than having the freedom to live how you truly want or need to?
I could go on. I think you will understand my point, here. As frustrating as this situation is, and may yet become, please do think every now and then that this type of life experience is very like normal life to a person with a disability. What would it be like for these type of feelings and experiences to be your ‘normal’?
Whether alone or in discussion with others, please do consider how the experience that the whole country is having, resembles many aspects of typical daily life for a person with a disability. Maybe even just spend five minutes writing down how you may now be able to empathise with a disabled person. Perhaps consider how you will view and interact with people with disabilities, once this whole Corona virus nightmare comes to an end. If you are, yourself, in a position of authority, power or influence, I wonder what you will be able to do, now that you can empathise with a disabled person’s experience to some extent, to help make life easier and more accessible for people with disabilities, in the future?
I would also add that this exercise can be repeated to not only empathise with those who are disabled, but it can be repeated to consider the experience of a person of low means or minimal income. Many of the barriers that a disabled person may experience, can also be the same for those who society would consider as ‘working class’ or ‘lower class’. Financial disadvantage can place considerable restrictions on freedoms that a wealthier person may take for granted; freedom to choose. Freedom to travel. Freedom of self-expression and communication. Freedom of available time.
Covid-19 has arrived on our islands but, as a community of people who share these beautiful lands, we could do a lot more to try to bridge the gaps between us and, it is my belief, that taking the time to empathise with another person’s experience would do more to break through such barriers than anything. This is something that requires minimal effort; just several minutes of time and a willingness to learn about others.
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2020.