What COVID Can Teach Us About Disability
I’m Cassandra Chiu, author of A Place For Us. When I’m not reading or writing, or advocating for persons with disabilities, I’m a psychotherapist in private practice.
So much has happened over the past 1 and almost half years with COVID-19, with millions dead, many more millions seriously ill, and health care systems around the world overloaded. For those who did not fall sick, they experienced the negative impact on their social lives from the differing stages of lockdowns and the blurring of lines between work and home. In light of the increased highlight on mental health issues, I thought it might be timely to share some of my observations.
Over the past few months, I marveled at the mirror that social media is. Not too long ago, pre-COVID, many lived online in their own bubble of work, personal and family lives. My social media feed was quite different, peppered with beautiful holidays, achievements, promotions, all the things worth admiring.
Today, my social media feed is flooded with self-care tips, outpouring of support for those who are isolated, and countless acts of kindness to strangers in need.
Actually, with social isolation, mobility challenges when going places, and reduced opportunities with work and play, life is not too different from that of a typical disabled person – COVID or not.
Sharing a life with disability is not your typical pre-COVID wonderous Instagram feed, filled with fun and success.
Disability brings about huge changes to one’s way of life. Education and work opportunities are limited, and often the disabled are remunerated much lesser than market value. Only about 5% of Singaporeans with a disability work, and many who do earn a mere few hundred dollars. Social life is different too. In another life, I was stopped from entering a club, because I was using my ‘white cane’, and the bouncers were afraid that I may hurt someone, so my able-bodied friends had to go on without me.
Supermarketing is ‘special’ too. When there is an opportunity, and I have help, I tend to stock up on stuff like washing detergent and toilet paper; not because I’m hoarding or worried the shelves will be empty, but because I’m worried without the help of sighted family or friends, I cannot locate my favourite brand… The problem after that is I have a panic attack about “money no enough”.
I can only imagine these experiences sound absurd or self-entitled to those unfamiliar with the inconveniences of disability but believe me – it’s the typical day in the shoes of someone who cannot walk, see, hear or process thoughts so-called normally to save their lives.
The isolation, inconveniences and stressors of living through a pandemic are similar to that of living with a disability. COVID has demonstrated that greater understanding and community support is vital for our mental well-being. Isn’t it overdue that the 7 billion of us stand together to support one another, without differences, and co-create a place for each one of us, disabled or not, COVID or otherwise?
(From May 15, 2021)