Though the first lockdown ended a while ago, the effects of it have impacted my life up to today. For almost a year we were delegated to zoom calls and emails, or were furloughed -and for me it was glorious.
When speaking with neurotypical friends, they all expressed how they missed being in a room with a person. In my opinion, however, there was a freedom in not having to process everything that comes with communicating verbally.
Someone’s tone. Body language. Words. The noises around. What I would say and in what manner. The feel of my clothes and keeping up with the flow of the conversation-all at the same time.
Instead, I could communicate in my strongest form, written text. If I was in a Zoom meeting, I could turn off my camera, use the chat function or the raise hand button so that I didn’t have the anxiety I might accidentally interrupt someone.
Whilst doing that, I could regulate my own environment, completely alone, to do what I needed to without being judged or misunderstood.
The first lockdown gave me a chance to have a voice in a way I’d never had before.
Then it ended.
In coming back into society I had to conform again -the right clothes, the right look, deal with environments only designed for neurotypicals. There was no space to self regulate or the dignity of being able to have a meltdown in private. There was no moment at all for me to be authentic as an autistic adult.
Having felt safe and secure in my home, I realised lockdown had given me a false sense of security and the outside world hadn’t changed for me one bit.
Though neurotypicals had experienced a small glimpse of what life is like for disabled people, having to stay in because most places aren’t accessible, they didn’t come out of lockdown having a real understanding of our lives.
I did have a naive hope that whilst neurotypicals were at home, they would stop and think about what it means to not be able to access the places you want to. In their experience working from home, I hoped they would see the freedom it brings and how that freedom is greatly needed to a disabled person.
I only had a taster of what it was like to be truly at peace when I was furloughed, and in seeking accommodations to work from home I was asking for my life to continue to be peaceful, less painful and to give me some dignity that I didn’t get in neurotypical spaces.
Fighting to keep the freedom lockdown gave, such as trying to get the accommodation to work from home, unfortunately, proved futile. The combination of being taken out of my safety zone and the realisation my reality still wasn’t understood led to bad mental health and burnout, and since then I have had to choose a job close to home just to minimise the struggle.
Despite a failed fight for accessibility, however, my experience caused a spark in me to look where others have experienced the same issues, and in this I’ve found hope.
The pandemic has opened doors to accessibility that will hopefully remain open, this I cannot deny even though I haven’t managed to get the same accommodations.
Home working has been normalised in some companies and Zoom meetings have become a regular option, which is a much needed change for disabled people.
New projects have also received funding, such as Siena Castellon’s mentorship for autistic children (a program which has now ended but helped me meet a now close friend). A friend who worked in a University confirmed more people across the globe were able to access classes online and over Zoom that they might not have been able to join, had it not been for the change in how we market events.
Whilst I am grieving the loss of my safety net, I appreciate the connections I have built overseas due to the months spent online with friends. Although I’m still struggling to feel secure in the outside world, the fact I’ve built such strong connections and have been able to be part of important conversations on disability and accessibility has helped me feel supported during the hard times.
There is still much to be done, but I have a large amount of hope and can see the work has been started to make things more accessible and make people more aware.
One lost fight doesn’t mean it is all over. The fight for accessible working goes on.
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