A friend and I were talking at the beginning of the pandemic about the compulsory wearing of masks. She was nervous about having to wear the mask every time she went out. So she began to wear it for short bursts of time at home. First five minutes, then ten minutes and slowly for longer. I jokingly told her, it is how I trained my cat to wear a harness. Cats are very sensitive to changes and the harness needs to be put on them over multiple steps over multiple days, till they get used to it. Most of how you respond or support the cat is through their non verbal body language – so in many ways, I needed to let them teach me when they were comfortable with it.
Outside of the disability community, this knowledge or wisdom of slowly easing into things is not very well known. But in a way it is just individuals and communities responding to changes in their bodies, minds, lives by giving ourselves time to adapt to the new “normal” – as we are now saying. I thought about this example a lot because in the time since the pandemic began, I kept getting links to resources that taught children with disabilities how to put on masks, how to adjust to the change in routine etc. Most of these resources were meant for parents and some directed at teens themselves. Most of these resources were catered to autistic children, those with sensory overloads or those who might have trauma that involved covering the mouth. I began to share it with individuals who I thought would benefit from it. Not really imagining that these measures or steps were meant only for disabled children and adults. Since I began working in the community, I have come to realise how valuable the understanding of universal design can be for all of us. When I first learnt the word universal design, I didn’t know what all it entailed. Universal design is a concept that refers to designing products, buildings, and the environment to be accessible or usable by the largest spectrum of people. It means building a world by shifting the idea of who is in the margins and who is at the centre.
One of the things this pandemic is teaching us is about how the existing inequalities are worsened by this situation. Those who are vulnerable are more exposed. This led us at Curio-City Collective to think about children and the affect the pandemic has had on them. Through a conversation with Radhika Alkazi, Founder and Managing Trustee, ASTHA, we explore how the pandemic is affecting children with disabilities in ‘No Child Left Behind’.
In my article, ‘Defining inclusion: From the perspective of children with disabilities,’ I unpack disability and examine how to create support systems for children with disabilities while listening to them. In our resource, Supporting Children With Disabilities Through A Pandemic, we put together some strategies and resources to help us all navigate this new terrain equipped with better understanding, support and tools.
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Hope you’re well and we look forward to hearing from you.