I wanted to write something about the coronavirus pandemic, because to quote the oft-repeated phrase (Sorry, Melanna), these are unprecedented times. We are living in a Historic Moment. I should say something highly profound. Unfortunately I have nothing profound to say because I am really freaking tired.
The thing is, despite all of the messaging around “we are all in this together”, divisions and strata have never been more obvious. Between those with disability and those without; those with access to space and resources and those without; those with young children and those without. The effects of these differences are compounded and intersectional.
When it came time to stay within our local bubbles there was a considerable difference between the haves and have nots. Iso is more manageable for those whose bubble included a stretch of beach, well-maintained public open space, private backyards and delivery services. And yet, the Waverley local council in New South Wales is seeking to restrict access to Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte beaches. The proposal is to prohibit beach-goers who do not reside within the Waverley local council area. This proposal compounds the disadvantage of those not privileged enough to live in this area.
Isolation is easy — or at least not impossible — when your greatest difficulty relates to your inability to get your nails done. If you have health, resources, and space you can still post slightly blown out happy homeschooling snaps to Instagram, or ‘hilarious’ dancing videos to Tiktok. There is solidarity among parents of young children as they struggle to fit it all in. And life goes on, albeit in a smaller and quieter way.
For those with disability who rely on support workers and care providers the picture looks quite different. Many of those people with disability fit multiple categories of vulnerability to Covid-19. Many employ support staff who provide close care to numerous people each day. These support staff are routinely low-paid workers, often from migrant backgrounds, and themselves disadvantaged. Many do not have adequate access to PPE. Some people with disability have been living the iso-life for years; but without the benefit of telehealth, remote work and other accommodations rolled out for the healthy socially-included people experiencing isolation for the first time.
And then there are those squealing about their healthy privileged children’s access to education during this extraordinary moment in time. Very few have the awareness that many children in this country have been, over a sustained period of time, denied access to an effective education due to disability, family disadvantage, or their location. While there are some children who will be disadvantaged by remote schooling (largely the same children who were disadvantaged at regular school), most children will be just fine, one way or another, whether they learn their times tables this year or not.
This is not to say that those who are disadvantaged should be forgotten. Indeed, this should be a warning to us all; we cannot continue to leave people behind and ignore their experience. As we rebuild, and move towards a life post-isolation, we need to consider the aspects of iso-life that allowed people access and inclusion. Remote work should remain an option for many; for those who need it for health and family reasons and not just for the duration of the pandemic. Telehealth and flexible practices for therapy and care could continue. Child care should be flexible, and funded. Meetings can be scaled back and travel minimised where it is not actually necessary. And government financial support should remain in place at a liveable level, regardless of the reason for why someone is in need of support.
We have an opportunity to pause, to come through tragedy and find a better way. Most of us have more privilege than others can imagine. We will come through this. It is our responsibility to ensure that everyone does.