I'm now well into my 4th year of shielding, and am increasingly being locked out of my industry. Let's talk about it.
I'm a freelance graphic designer and digital marketer, and I work predominantly with clients in the accessibility/inclusion space. I have to be online for my job, assessing what is happening across these industries. And to be quite honest, I'm feeling deflated.
Every day, for years now, I am constantly bombarded with posts on in-person events from across the healthcare/social care/hospice care/disability sectors that aren't Covid safe.
No mentions of Covid at all, let alone any protective measures they have in place. No mention of HEPA filters, increased air filtration and ventilation, pre-event testing. No virtual access, no masks in any of the images. From looking at these posts you would never know we're still very much in the midst of a global airborne pandemic.
And that's wrong.
Conferences, product launches, networking events, parties, dinners, award shows and more. And often from massive organisations that absolutely have the money, time, resources and connections to enact change.
Where do people like me fit in?
Some of us are at higher risk for post-Covid complications, yes, but everyone is at risk. Nobody is sure to be safe and we must lead by example.
I can't network in person. It's not safe for me to do so. But it's becoming increasingly unsafe for my mental wellbeing to be active online either. And I'm far from the only one.
Covid continues to be a public health disaster, it hasn't disappeared. But it often feels like the support has, even from the sectors that should theoretically care the most.
We must continue to layer covid protective measures. Not everyone can wear a mask, I know. But those people deserve to be safe too, and the more other people wear them the safer they'll all be. I've heard first hand from multiple people, on multiple occassions, at multiple different disability-themed events that they brought a mask but felt too self conscious to wear it. Or they felt the need to remove it for taking photos with others.
What sort of atmosphere and community are we fostering here? What are we encouraging? What are we discouraging? Consiously or not.
It's increasingly frustrating witnessing disability organisations using the most wishy washy language when it comes to Covid safety. It's frankly shameful coming from organisations that claim to be fighting for inclusion, access, progress and actionable change.
Generally Covid is never mentioned anymore. I routinely ask and challenge organisations about this. The language used in response is often deeply disappointing.
"We know this still matters to some members of our community". "We know some people are still nervous". "We know people have different comfort levels". "We're sorry this feels unsafe".
The thing is, it isn't about feeling unsafe. It's about being purposefully and ignorantly actively endangered. It isn't a personal opinion. It's scientific fact based on several years of research and proven data.
It isn't nerves, it's knowledge.
It isn't an excuse to say you know it matters to some people - but essentially not really to you or your organisation. Not enough to actually do anything. It absolutely should matter to everyone. Particularly people and organisations that claim to be progressive and community minded.
Many of these organisations aim to challenge ableism and exclusion on a structural, societal and systemic level. Important work of course. But we can't forget about Covid in this fight.
It seems odd to me to discuss any sort of social justice issue without also discussing society's response to Covid and how it all intersects. It all ties together.
I love my job, and my clients. But the sector at large has a lot of issues we need to face.
Let's not downplay this. Let's stop referring to feelings and comfort. Let's stop pushing the individualisation of safety and care. Or what do we stand for really?