Ten years ago, I awoke long before sunrise, in preparation for an early morning meeting. I felt queasy from taking a new medication. It was February, piercingly cold, dark. Several inches of fresh snow covered my long wheelchair ramp and path to the driveway. Lying on my side, I wondered why my prior requests to attend some meetings by phone or computer had been met with such resistance. I knew there were many other people who couldn’t work and volunteer because of their health challenges, lack of transportation or childcare. The clock ticked. I could call-in sick or get out of bed. I went to the meeting.
Now, like many people sheltering at home, I’ve embraced Zoom, Google Chat and Jitsi Meet. These platforms have given me a way to see my health care provider, stay connected to family and friends and meet my work and volunteer responsibilities. These include completing my teaching for the spring semester at Northwestern Michigan College, participating in the five-day Interlochen Writers Retreat and interviewing National Writers Series author, Elaine Weiss.
For these, and other reasons, I’d add tech professionals to our long list of COVID-19 essential workers.
There are numerous advantages to these platforms; audio descriptions for sight impaired folks, closed captioning and the wide use of ASL interpreters for the hearing impaired, recordings of missed meetings/classes and increased opportunities to interact with lots of people in diverse settings. For example, on any given day, I can offer public comment at a variety of public meetings, as well as observe court proceedings. Geography or commuting time are no longer barriers. I can also register for free training webinars on countless topics; from human rights to leadership.
In addition to work and board meetings, I’ve had great fun virtually attending the Cannes Film Festival, touring the Louvre Museum and singing along in concert with performer, Neil Young.
Since May 17, I’ve participated in “Crip Camp: The Official Virtual Experience” — the professionally led virtual camp follows ideas from the 2020 documentary film “Crip Camp” and runs every Sunday until August 30, 2020.
Topics span “Disability Community Culture & Identity” to “Disability, Race, Class, & Gender: Intersectionality,” to “ADA 30 Celebration” and “Let’s Talk About Sex: Our Bodies, Our Lives & Reproductive Justice.”
We, the campers, listen to speakers, process the material through guided exercises and live chat during the gathering. There often is a question and answer section and then the PeoplesHub lead an after-party where attendees assemble to further discuss the content and share thoughts, feelings and connect with others in the national disability community.
The following week on Tuesdays, I’ve continued the week’s theme with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living Crip Camp Club discussion. From there on Thursdays, I’ve often joined our local Disability Network’s Peer Advocacy meetings. Some weeks, I’ve even been able to add an international related disability group discussion, such as with the International Disability Alliance.
Through each version of Crip Camp I’m learning a great deal about the topics and myself. My community of people with disabilities is now more global and vastly diverse.
By way of these platforms, the world feels both larger and more intimate. And, I never had to leave my house.
Contact Susan Odgers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She is a 33-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 44 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.