Lessons we can learn from the disabled community during lockdown

Disabled people have been adapting to new ways of working since forever. Here's what paralympian swimmer Liz Johnson wants us to know as we navigate these new waters

As we adjust to living our lives on lockdown, it’s important to remember that for the 13.9 million people in the disabled community living in the UK, life in the face of restrictions, challenges and health anxieties is part and parcel of daily life.
The disabled community has been adapting to new ways of working since forever: learning to work from home, make effective use of online tools to collaborate with colleagues at a distance, face up to communication challenges, overcome barriers to access and cope with glitchy tech without an IT department on tap.

There’s so much we can learn from disabled people as our lives become similarly limited during the coronavirus pandemic, and here, paralympian Liz Johnson shares the lessons we can all learn from when it comes to adapting to this new normal.

Liz is a British swimmer who has won gold medals in the Paralympic Games and International Paralympic Committee world championships

With movement restricted, it’s important to take pleasure in the simple things

Liz tells Marie Claire, ‘Most of the disabled people I know are also the happiest people I know, because as a group we’re incredibly good at seeing the positives in situations and focusing on the things that give us joy. Yes, we might have a disability that presents certain challenges, but we overcome them, adapt, and make the most of life.’

‘Staying positive, thinking creatively about your approach to daily life and being thankful for the little pleasures is essential when you’re facing any kind of limitation or difference. Train yourself to appreciate the little things and value what you’ve got. You’ll feel extremely lucky now, and even luckier once all this is over and you can get back to normal. Focus on the opportunities that have arisen out of trying to navigate the new obstacles.’

Evaluating which commodities we really need is vital when access is limited

Most of us have never had to think twice about whether we can access exactly what we need in the shops: until now. All of a sudden we’re all figuring out when to shop to avoid crowds and queues, so we can get what we need and protect our health. Liz says that for many in the disabled community, this is a common consideration.

‘If you’re now planning how and when to get to the shops – perhaps you’ve had to rely on somebody else to get your groceries due to isolation, or have planned your weekly outing to a supermarket under lockdown – remember how it feels to be restricted in this way, not accessing what you want so easily. And think about what you really need before buying things you already have. This can be used as an opportunity to try new recipes, with what is available or what we have in stock.’

The fear of not receiving adequate care is real and debilitating

The coronavirus crisis has forced everyone to worry about what will happen if they become ill but cannot be treated properly due to overstretched care services, and for many people living with disabilities, concerns about receiving adequate care is an everyday issue. Liz expands, ‘Care budgets are being slashed, vital services discontinued and lifelines cut off. It’s exhausting to constantly have to fight for your basic needs, even to have to think so acutely about what you need to survive.

We can all use this opportunity and additional time to take preventative measures to minimise the need to put any additional pressures on the NHS and other key workers.’ Very true.

Athlete Liz – who lives with cerebral palsy – is also an entrepreneur, having launched a disability inclusion consultancy called The Ability People, to help close the disability employment gap (courtesy of Amy Mace)

It’s not easy feeling vulnerable, so we must all act selflessly to protect each other

Liz says we can learn from the experience of coronavirus by realising that feeling vulnerable is how lots of the disabled community will feel on a standard day. She adds, ‘Learn to have empathy and to appreciate your health. Now and in future, help those who are struggling, be considerate and act as selflessly as you can to support the vulnerable and look after people’s specific needs. We all have a duty to support and protect one another.’

We’re more than capable of adapting to new ways of working. Perseverance is key.

Liz says, ‘Although it can be isolating, working at home also means more time to crack on with the tasks at hand without the interruptions you might face at the office. You can also strike a better work-life balance without the stress of a commute.

‘It might feel as though you are juggling more whilst working at home but don’t view this as a negative – be grateful for the additional time that you are able to spend with those in your household and appreciate that your work output can still be the same, the structure of your day might just look different at the moment.’

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