A moment to capture, to savour and to put in the lockdown memory bank. Last Thursday was the last ‘official’ clapping for the NHS and all key workers. After the noise of saucepans being hit in concert with claps had died down a voice from quite a way down the street shouted out “I will really miss seeing you all”!
I knew the man by sight. I probably know the make, model and colour of his car better than his facial features, but yet had never spoken to him before. The realisation that, although we all tend to lead busy lives, I can’t help but think it feels a little rude that I don’t know very much about my slightly distant neighbours.
There has been a surprising amount of literature on isolation and the disproportionate impact on disabled people. This includes a lack of face to face contact but also online isolation to key information because of inaccessible websites. The recent reports by the United Nations and ONS are borne out by the stories on social media about how disabled people have been made vulnerable by the experience. I wrote about my own feelings of ‘vulnerability’ in a recent post, Make Do and Mend.
The experience made me think back to the start of my career in disability and the anchor of understanding the social model of disability. It is our society that disables people with impairments. I have no arms and short legs, but my adapted car enables me to get to and from work. It is the height of the door handles which are usually my undoing.
How can the lived experience of disabled people play a central role in the post lockdown recovery? How do recovery plans become inclusive?
An email from a disabled person last week provides an insight to where we should start. The individual has a visual impairment and expressed many of their frustrations around the current world of social distancing. The individual would normally have their shopping packed into a backpack and helped onto their back. This has been frowned upon due to social distancing protocols. They would typically use cash rather than card, but cash payments are being discouraged at the moment. The screens between tills are predominantly see through, making it easy for the individual to walk right into them. The ‘no touch without buying’ protocol is also problematic as the individual needs the product very close to their eyes to identify what it is. And in the early days of lockdown, empty shelves ruined the navigation system around the shop as they didn’t have items on the shelf as a reference point.
These are all difficult issues to address but made easier if the lived experience of disabled people were part of the solution. For example, if the plastic screens had markings in the middle and at the edge the problem would be mitigated. A Deliveroo style backpack which could be loaned out and routinely cleaned would aid the issues around packing and carrying. And people need to be more aware that social distancing applies equally to guide dogs as well as humans.
Purple has identified three core areas to make plans more inclusive. One is the built environment and mitigating the impact for disabled employees and customers. The issues and emerging solutions are illustrated in the example above. Small changes can make a big difference – and within the new and required ways of operating. The accessibility of websites is fundamental to many, when retrieving information, or increasingly purchasing services and products online. Again, a lot can be done overnight and at no cost. And finally, disability awareness needs to be an integral part of the new customer service training which all staff will need. These three areas are not the silver bullet or a pass not to do more. But if they are done properly, they will certainly go a long way to improving the experience for a lot of disabled people.
I might not be on the doorstep at 8pm this Thursday, but wherever I am will be doing my own version of clapping. Clapping with my feet. Happy feet!
2 June 2020