South Africa is slowly getting into grips with the realisation of a lockdown that doesn’t seem to have an end date anytime soon and with the awareness of the economic impact of what it could mean for a country that was already in a recession with retrenchments every other day. The stark and constant reminder of how those without are going to be without even worse is making everybody wake up to a painful reality WRITES MAKGOSI LETIMILE.
With this I have been thinking about how accessibility will be playing itself out for all to see and how for many the lessons will be missed because they have the privilege of having a soft spot to land due to ableism privilege.
In order to flatten the curve we are advised to limit movements and contact with others, and order in what we can as to lessen our chances of contracting COVID. It’s all good and well for those who live in areas where deliveries are a norm since we live in the times of e-service delivery but for those who fall outside the circle of comfort it’s a different story.
I’ve lived in Protea North, Soweto with my parents since 2016 while I was getting used to my new existence as a disabled woman. My home was inaccessible. I thought I could order food from one of the many retailers around Soweto and it was a lesson in how even with accessibility, access is not always guaranteed.
There are about 7 if not more malls & shopping centres around Protea North, all within 5-20mins distance. Yet with every one of those shops, very few food franchises delivered to my home & therein lies a problem with this lockdown. For the disabled, this lockdown means that we can’t always order groceries to Soweto, we can’t order medicines and any other needs we might have. Our disabilities are not taken into account when planning happens and when we are finally included it’s a reaction to our pushback about being forgotten once again.
Take a moment to think about the often abused and disabled who have had to learn to negotiate their existence in a hostile world that doesn’t take kindly to those who don’t fit the mold, now having to renegotiate at an even higher price for accessibility to things that should be without question.
Disability is often a very lonely experience, it has gotten better with the help of the internet we can form community and support each other. It’s not available to everybody who is disabled so those are the ones who are at an even bigger risk due to a limited/ lack of information and resources that would enable this lockdown to be easier. The disabled are having to risk their lives by depending on those around them to keep out of harm’s way when going outside. We have to trust that people keep us in mind when they go about their daily lives.
Yes it’s an inconvenience that able bodied people are unable to go outside and enjoy their exercises and various experiences. However it’s only until the lockdown ends, for the disabled it still puts us at a risk because in as much as we hope the hygiene practices we are living with continue. Once a Covid vaccine is found, I wonder how many of us will keep up with it.
Disability is also very expensive. This lockdown has meant that we have more people to feed with the grant as I’ve recently realized how much I eat while I’m at home waiting for the world to jumpstart again. In a country where more than 50% of the population is unemployed / underemployed, the grant already doesn’t go far. Now it’s expected to go even further. Another burden that the disabled often have to carry as part of the negotiated settlement that comes with disability in an able bodied and hostile world.
The world is having to learn that we are never alone. It’s my hope that while we are wrapped up in our grief about being unable to leave the house for 21 days, we remember those who have had to make peace with hardly ever leaving their homes. When they finally do, the world says Iit can’t accommodate them and accessibility is too much of an effort to make.
And after all of that, when the lockdown ends & companies are scrambling to cut costs because the year was expensive and with no return, those with disabilities will most likely be the first ones to get informed that the company can’t afford to retain them. If they do retain us it will be for a lesser amount unless we want to be completely replaced, forcing us to enter into another negotiated settlement that will see us worse off than before.
While everything else plays out for the rest of the world, myself and the rest of the disabled community will try to make peace with everything as it comes and accepts that we are going into a new way of being and then I remember that we still have to leave the house after the lockdown and with a virus that sticks to surfaces, facing possible illness and death at any given time, I hope when the rest of the world goes outside again, they remember what it was like to feel like prisoners in their own bodies and always keep the disabled in mind without constant reminders of our existence