By Associate Professor
Cate Thomas (pictured), Associate Dean Academic for the Charles Sturt University Faculty of Science. She has hearing and mobility disabilities,
and suffers from chronic pain due to a connective tissue disorder. She
identifies her disabilities as hidden disabilities, as they are hard to
recognise by an untrained eye.
2020 has been a year of massive challenges and reflection for many people around the world as their daily lives and routines where thrown into chaos and restriction due to COVID-19.
And it got me thinking.
Has anything really changed for an individual who is living with a disability during this time of lockdowns and restrictions?
And the answer was … well, not really.
In fact, what came to mind was that able individuals or those without disability in the population were experiencing what many people with disabilities experience every day of their lives.
For example, many people who live with a disability are restricted in the time they can get out of their homes to do their shopping or to socialise, as they are generally reliant on specialised transport or support.
It got me wondering whether the more able population had reflected on what they were experiencing was just like the normal day for a person who was living with a disability – I hoped that it would, but I don’t think it has.
There are many people living with disability in Australia. In 2018 there were 4.4 million individuals living with a disability, which is approximately 17.7 per cent of the population.
That is nearly one in five people who have some form of disability or, to say it bluntly, have some form of restriction in their daily lives.
They are individuals, who at various times or in various aspects of their lives, are living with restrictions that most people in Australia have now just experienced themselves.
But what is concerning is that those without a disability can return to their previous activities, choices and freedoms, while for many living with a disability, it will just remain the same.
So, what can we do as a society to help facilitate choice and freedom for those experience restrictions due to their disabilities?
We can educate, we can advocate, and we can communicate that people living with disability are valued and contributing citizens to society.
We work, we laugh, we contribute to society, we have aspirations, we share our lived experience in a hope to educate that disability or difference is OK and that we all matter, not just on one calendar day every year, but on every day of every year.
But on this day every year I ask people to reflect on how they can make a difference to be more inclusive of people’s difference and individual needs.
Recently I was reading some blogs a good friend sent me on ableism and how it has become more of a focus than disability, and particularly the privilege that goes with being able.
That may be so in some cases, but I would rather put the effort into seeing everyone ̶ no matter what their ability is ̶ for who they are and the contribution they make to our society, and providing a few small things that can help to leverage a successful and fulfilling life for all.
Getting back to COVID-19 and the restrictions, it is my hope that people will reflect on their personal experiences of a loss of freedom and autonomy or the imposition of restriction differently now.
I hope people understand what it’s like for a person living with a disability, and consider how they can contribute to removing restrictions for those who deal with them daily due to their difference.Everyone can achieve something; it is really just about what we do as a society to help support people to get there.