This might seem like a very odd question to ask in the middle of the worst pandemic to engulf the human population for 100 years, but just like the Spanish Flu pandemic and all other pandemics, plagues and pestilences since the dawn of time, eventually there will be a post COVID-19 world to live in. But what might it be like? In what ways will it be different? In what ways might it even be better? And what has any of this to do with a blog about supporting children and young people with additional needs or disabilities and their families? Well, there could possibly be quite a bit!
We’ve all become much more aware of our neighbours! Many of us live in communities where over the last few weeks we’ve got to know the people we’ve been living amongst, sometimes for years, much better. We’ve been shopping for each other, standing in the street and clapping the NHS and care workers (see later) together, communicating via window signs with each other, being better neighbours to each other.
Will all of this newfound neighbourliness just evaporate once we get back to the ‘new normal’ again? I hope not. I have a feeling that part of the reason we’ve kept ourselves to ourselves in the past has been down to a great big dollop of British reserve. Well that’s been dealt a hefty blow by Coronavirus and maybe that one of the positives of all of this. If we can emerge from it all caring more about those living around us, knowing who they are, checking in on them more, especially those families we know that have children with additional needs for example, learning to be friends as well as neighbours, then we might all find ourselves living in a better world that the one we lived in a few short weeks ago.
Respect for carers
While most of us have had a great deal of respect for those that work in the National Health Service, I think it’s fair to say that many of us have taken them for granted a bit. As a nation we’ve not always dug deep enough to equip them for the work they do, or thanked them sufficiently for their amazing dedication to keeping us all healthy. People in the wider care sector have typically been underappreciated, under-valued and under-paid, often on minimum or the laughingly titled ‘living’ wage while caring for the most vulnerable of our community.
The work these amazing heroes do has come into sharp focus over these last few weeks, and has rightly raised many questions about how we value people, what we value them for, how we equip and reward them. It is hard to imagine a society that has been stood on their doorsteps cheering and clapping, that has placed candles and pictures of support in their windows, will suddenly turn their backs on this most deserving of sectors once Coronavirus is under control. I hope that we all remember who the real ‘key workers’ are in our society and continue to thank them for all that they do, including those who work to support families with children with additional needs.
Online social access
It has been impossible not to notice the explosion in online activity over recent weeks, with many people learning how to use Zoom, Facebook Live, YouTube and more. It’s been great to connect with other colleagues who are working from home, to hold team gatherings online and to attend online church services. Lots of friends and colleagues have been learning to create video content and post it online, and are blogging, vlogging and sharing in loads of interesting ways.
While this has been a necessary way of working for us all during this current crisis, it has been of enormous benefit to many who even prior to this were ‘socially isolated’ due to disability, illness, age, family circumstances such as having a child with additional needs, or a combination of several of these factors. For the most marginalised in our society, the online world has opened up new and exciting opportunities to take part that simply weren’t there before. I hope that once we are all able to move around freely, to go to places that have been closed and to meet up again, we won’t stop using the online skills that we’ve all acquired and will keep thinking about how to include everyone, especially the most marginalised.
Being better people
The last few weeks have stripped away much of what we took for granted, changed forever who we are and how we live. We always believed that we could just pop out to a huge choice of 24-hour shops whenever we needed something. We lived an on-demand life. That changed when we found that almost overnight the things we relied on most were not there any more. The shops were bare, the fear was real, we have had to get used to enormous change in a matter of days, we didn’t always respond to this change well.
I hope that this sharp lesson in reality has changed us for the better. That next time we think about criticising and turning away refugees from war-torn or famine-stricken countries trying to find safety and a fresh start for their children in our country, we will remember that we fought over toilet rolls, that we stockpiled vast amounts of pasta, that we stole hand-sanitizer and face masks from hospitals. This crisis has brought out the very best in many, and the very worst in some. I hope that on the whole we will be better people for this experience, less selfish, less materialistic, less consumerist, more humane.
Like us all, I look forward to the Coronavirus crisis being over, to us all emerging from lockdown, blinking, into the sunlight of a new more hopeful day. I look forward to us not having daily death and infection figures to endure, but to us having a cure, a vaccine, a way to prevent this from coming back. I look forward to us learning the lessons of this crisis and perhaps becoming a more generous, people focused world. And in that fairer world I hope that families with children with additional needs will be treated equally, will be able to seize new opportunities to engage and participate in ways that were not there before, will be valued and included, cared for and respected. In this month where we celebrate that great campaigner for civil liberties, Dr. Martin Luther King, you might also say “I have a dream…”