Shruti Pushkarna: One year of the lockdown: Do we consider the impact of our choices on others?

25 Mar,2021

Shruti PushkarnaBy Shruti Pushkarna

 

A little over a year ago, the novel coronavirus unleased a global pandemic. In March 2020, the country entered a lockdown. The term seemed alien to most people who’d never been forced to stay indoors, barring those who had witnessed temporary impositions during the Emergency or the wars with the neighbouring countries. Of course not counting persons with disabilities, chronic illnesses or the elderly who remain confined for varied reasons (irrespective of the state-enforced measures).

 

Not only lockdown, many new phrases were introduced into our daily lingo. Remote work, virtual meetings, new normal, social distancing (even though it was physical distancing, I wonder why we called it that), Zoom classes, online hangouts. And let’s not forget the trending obsessions of the lockdown period. Social media posts exhibiting culinary art, workout regimes, TikTok memes, YouTube tutorials on everything under the sun, nature photography (probably the first time people had time to pause and process the beauty around them), bird spotting et cetera.

 

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” In the past year, the world underwent change constantly and rapidly. Whether it was the rising number of Covid cases, mortality rate, shortage of supplies, hoarding of medicines, bare minimum facilities for the medical fraternity or job losses, every day some bleak dimension was added to our reality.

 

But not all change was bad. The altering dynamics also brought in different coping mechanisms. We discovered ‘new means and centers of operation’. Schools, colleges, offices or any other forms of professional/social engagement moved online, easily accessible from the comfort of our homes. In the disability space, people termed it as a great opening, a window of opportunity which had the potential of blurring (if not entirely eradicating) the barriers that kept persons with disabilities tucked away from the mainstream.

 

Disabled people who had access to technology and internet suddenly found themselves included in the virtual scheme of things. Online classes facilitated the integrated mode of education, bringing teachers and study material to students who were otherwise forced to drop out of school, given the inaccessibility of physical spaces and teaching modes. Similarly, employment options opened up for those who had the skills and the qualification but remained jobless because accommodating them in an office environment seemed unfathomable to potential employers.

 

Universal vulnerability and fear of an unknown virus helped some of us realise how our environment can be disabling, sometimes more than an actual physical or mental impairment. Yes, people were overwhelmed, but they also learnt ways to battle a ‘never-faced-before’ adversity. The world didn’t cease to function. Education, employment, public services, travel, leisure, all resumed, albeit in innovative ways.

 

What’s obvious here is our ability to deal with a challenge when it impacts the majority population. Same solutions weren’t explored when it was a subsection of disabled, women, transgender, poor or any other labeled (read marginalised) group. Technology emerged as an answer to most limitations caused by Covid-19.

 

For some years now, and especially after the outbreak, various discussions indicate that we’ve entered the world of data and bio-warfare. But technology isn’t the devil here. Just like morphine can ease someone’s pain and kill another, the handler decides the scope of its usage.

 

Technology has created a level playing field, bringing people closer and making possibilities real for persons with disabilities. But more than tech innovations, it’s about the choices we make as individuals or businesses or governments, which can either enable or disable citizens.

 

One year down the line, are we aware that our choices impact other people’s lives?

 

Just like we can choose to wear a mask to prevent another person from catching the virus, we can choose to create an environment that is inclusive. Leaders can choose to implement policy that will reinforce accessibility in every sphere, be it physical or digital. Tech giants can choose to create solutions that will cater to the needs of the disabled as much as the able-bodied. Logically, a larger customer base makes for affordable and cost-effective products/services. Influencers like the media can choose to amplify challenges faced by persons with disabilities, in the post-Covid era where humans are likelier to understand each other’s difficulties.

 

Ignorance and indifference can no longer be an excuse for the ableist society to look away from the problems that became evident in the past year. We all got a taste of captivity which was exclusively associated with the disabled, earlier.

 

Having lived through a near disaster in 2020 and heading into an uncertain future, we have the choice to remain selfish or empathetically co-create a conducive milieu.

 

 

Shruti Pushkarna heads operations of the New Delhi-based Score Foundation where she works as Director-Programmes & Communications. She is a former journalist (part of the founding team of MxMIndia) who has moved full-time to the social sector. Shruti writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. Her views here are personal. While you mull over your life choices, Shruti will be back in a few weeks with more questions, experiences, accounts and inspiration. You can tweet your comments and suggestions to @shrutipushkarna

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