In the past year, life as we knew it was upended by a global pandemic. For most people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, adapting to a world that was not always designed for us is something we are pretty adept at. Although the pandemic has not been without its challenges, it has also expanded my ability to see the world.
The sudden shift in digital experiences was almost immediate. As someone who has cerebral palsy, this has allowed me to explore more than I had ever imagined. I have seen The Louvre in Paris, France, The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, and The Great Wall Of China. Places which I would love to see in real life, but due to accessibility issues, it may not be possible for me to see them in real life.
For some of us with disabilities, flying on a plane proves difficult or impossible. There currently is no way for a wheelchair user to remain in their wheelchair during a flight. The inability to stay in a wheelchair leaves those who cannot transfer from their wheelchairs into an airplane seat unable to fly on an airplane at all.
Wheelchairs and other vital equipment for people with disabilities can often end up broken or damaged while flying. According to The Washington Post, airlines have lost or damaged more than 15,000 wheelchairs in the past three years alone. A damaged or broken wheelchair can often take weeks or months to get repaired. The wheelchairs that some people with disabilities utilize are often highly customized pieces of complex rehabilitation technology. The wheelchairs can have functions such as seat elevators and tilt and recline capabilities which are vital to the overall well-being of their users.
The ability to see museums and other places on my computer eliminates the need to be there in person. I suddenly had the chance to see places I once could only dream of visiting. I never thought I would see any of the artwork at The Louvre in France. Cerebral Palsy was no longer a barrier to seeing the world beyond my rural Massachusetts community.
I also have enjoyed using Zoom to connect with members of my family, some of whom I haven’t seen in a few years. It allowed me to foster some new relationships with my cousins as well. I was reconnecting with cousins whom I don’t think I would have otherwise.
The pandemic has changed all of our lives, but I am thankful for the new opportunities provided to those with disabilities when the world suddenly became much more accessible. I hope that some of these opportunities, such as virtual museum experiences, and the ability to work remotely, will continue to be available for those who could benefit so much from them.
Sampson, Hannah. “Airlines Have Lost or Damaged More than 15,000 Wheelchairs since Late 2018.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 June 2021, http://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2021/06/07/wheelchair-scooter-damage-airplane-flights/.
Thank you for your story.