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International Day of People with Disabilities

Main text: International Day of Persons with Disabilities 3rd December 2021. This graphic contains the following icons: a person using a wheelchair, a person walking and a person walking with a long cane. Also includes the Sight and Sound logo

By Stuart Lawler, Head of Content, Sight and Sound Technology 

Today (3rd December 2021) we mark International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD) and the 2021 theme is fighting for rights in a post-Covid era.

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, there is no doubt about that, but even more so for groups that can be so easily marginalised. Over the last 20 months, people with disabilities have faced increased isolation, either complete lack of or seriously scaled back services and communication on important public health measures often not designed with our needs in mind.

As a blind person, social distancing is impossible and it has made routine things like shopping or using public transport really challenging. In the beginning, this was more than just a practical consideration, it really had a big impact on confidence levels for a lot of people and prevented people from getting out and about – and still does in many cases.

I am IT savvy so the move online was an easy one for me (although it was a huge challenge for others) but even I struggled with the constant updates to Zoom and other online meeting platforms that were suddenly facing a huge upsurge in users, which resulted in regular changes that slowed me down daily as I had to figure where the feature I needed had been moved to.

Audible clues are so important to me in my daily life but mask-wearing changed that. Someone said hello to me in my local shop one day, and although I knew the voice, I couldn’t figure out where the person was standing because of how the mask changed the acoustics in that situation and that was really unnerving.

One positive to come out of Covid is the community that we have created through Webinar Wednesday and the AT Social Hub sessions. Without geographical barriers, we have been able to introduce our audiences to lots of different technologies, hold clinics answer question and have some really valuable conversations. We have seen people develop digital skills out of necessity and then realise how technology opens up their world.

The pandemic has magnified barriers that have always been there and, of course, created some new ones. It may also have forced us to think about life as a disabled person a bit more. How do you feel about identifying as someone with a disability? It’s not something we think about every day – at least I don’t.  We are all many things – partners, parents, sons or daughters – we associate with these parts of us and with our professional lives but not necessarily with the word disability.

But it is important for us to talk about our experiences and acknowledge these challenges if we are to and to improve outcomes for ourselves and others.

The pandemic challenged what we value the most – our independence – and that is ultimately what fighting for our rights is all about – enabling people to live independently, whatever that means to each individual in their life.

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