Saskatchewan·Opinion

Digital solutions during the pandemic put disabled people on more equal ground. Don't forget us once it's over

Many of us don’t want to close Zoom and go back to your version of “normal.” Our existence wasn’t valued there. It often wasn’t even acknowledged, writes John Loeppky.

Pandemic proved that digital access is possible, says John Loeppky

The global experience of the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the emotional toll of isolation and issues surrounding accessibility. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

This opinion piece is by John Loeppky, a disabled artist and freelance writer/editor in Regina. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.


I sometimes think about those of you who are so zealous about going back to the pre-pandemic "normal."

I picture you sitting in a bar, grinning with glee about the return to your non-disabled version of utopia. It's always a packed event. All the tables are so high that no manual wheelchair like mine can hope to reach them. Everyone is mask-free, engaging in chit-chat destined for nowhere good at an ungodly speed and volume. 

Did they forget about us? Never mind, I know they did. I know you did. 

In your relentless attempts to return to the past, you've forgotten almost a quarter of the population, like me, who want opportunities to engage. I'm talking about the disabled community. 

Many of us don't want to close Zoom and go back to your version of "normal." Our existence wasn't valued there. It often wasn't even acknowledged.

As a disabled person, John Loeppky says it is hard to watch accessibility only improve during the pandemic because able-bodied people were affected. He hopes disabled people are not forgotten when the pandemic is over. (Samanda Brace/CBC News)

The price of your inconvenience

You will more than likely become disabled in your lifetime. Whether you identify that way is up to you. Father Time is undefeated, and Uncle Disability isn't far behind. 

You sell yourself a lie that you are different from us, that you won't have to worry about those pesky pre-existing conditions, that your healthy body will carry you through the pandemic and this is all just a temporary solution to a fleeting problem. 

To be honest, I can't really blame you for being so naive.

The pandemic proved that digital access is possible. It just wasn't seen by many as necessary before. Now, like a stage whisper, it's gone. 

We saw you devalue digital as different, worse, a discount version. Sure, Zoom doesn't need ramps or accessible transit, but still you balked at the price of your inconvenience. God forbid your needs not be centred for all of five minutes. 

Digital access means freedom. It may be imperfect, but it's my version of access in all its crip, disabled, neurodivergent, messy glory. It's hard some days to feel proud of disability, to accept a backhanded compliment ("You're so resilient!") while systems try to eradicate you from the planet. Yet, here we are. 

Not to be self-indulgent, but here I am. 

Disabled folks of this generation rely on the internet as one of the only ways to connect — global health crisis or not. Did you really think we wouldn't notice when you started slipping? Do you really think your event — no matter how creative, how groundbreaking, how astonishing — matters more than disabled people staying alive? 

What are you going to do?

I know there are many in the disability community who feel comfortable and need that in-person time. Fair play. But I have to ask: why can't you create that digital access too? 

I hear you repurposing old arguments. It's all about resources, energy and priorities. I see you desperately crossing out accessibility plans. I see you hastily removing all mentions of recorded sessions. I see you pouring all your resources into the comfort and convenience of face-to-face. 

I don't see you being an ally, even if your outward persona professes otherwise. 

Making things digitally accessible is hard. You're trading one set of barriers for another. But that's always the excuse, isn't it? It's too hard, it's too uncomfortable, it might mean that you once did something wrong and will have to acknowledge that you weren't always creating the safest space. 

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There are people in our communities doing this work. Look to them. It won't happen instantly or easily, but it has to happen if we want a more equitable society.

When I last decided to yell about this, privileged as I am, I wrote, "It's very hard to watch the adaptations many of us beg for — remote working, live-streamed art, food delivery — become ubiquitous and unchallenged as soon as abled people find themselves needing them."

It's funny, in a sick sort of way, how cyclical this all is. The non-disabled giveth and the non-disabled taketh away.

I have hope — I have to for my own health — that digital access will slowly come further and further into the collective consciousness, but in many ways, it feels as if we've lost out on a tremendous opportunity to make seismic shifts.

So what are you going to do about it?


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Loeppky

Freelance contributor

John Loeppky is a disabled artist and freelance writer/editor. He is the former editor-in-chief of the Carillon, the University of Regina’s campus newspaper, and can be reached at loeppkycreative@gmail.com.

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