— By Nicola Owen, Te Pou Project Coordinator, Disability
Each year on 3 December we come together to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Most years there are events across the world to acknowledge the contribution that disabled people make to society and to campaign for a fairer and more equal society that is accessible to everyone.
In 2020, many disabled people won’t be able to get together in person because of COVID-19, and so we’ll need to try to connect in other ways.
The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is: “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.
As someone who is immunocompromised, the news of a pandemic sweeping the world filled me with dread. Writing here in Aotearoa New Zealand I’m acutely aware of the relief I felt when the Government put our country into lockdown to eliminate the virus. I’m fearful and angry for friends overseas whose health is put at risk by lack of access to services, who are living in facilities where the virus spreads unchecked, or who have to make difficult decisions every day about whether to go to work or send their children to school and who can’t visit loved ones.
Many disabled people across the globe have had a very challenging year. Reduced service provision, lack of access to shopping support and not being able to connect with friends and family has increased social isolation across the disability community and lead to heightened stress and mental health issues for many people.
You can read the results of the Office for Disability Issues survey here: https://www.odi.govt.nz/guidance-and-resources/how-life-is-going-for-the-disability-co/
There have been some positive outcomes in the way the world has changed in lockdown. Employers have learned to be more flexible about staff working from home. Some events that used to be physically inaccessible have moved online and could be available to anyone with the technology to log in. There are lots of opportunities to learn from 2020. In New Zealand, the recently elected government uses the slogan: “Build Back Better”. Let’s all use this International Day of Persons with Disabilities to encourage the government to add the rest of the slogan, so accessibility can be front and centre in the rebuild: “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.