During the COVID-19 lockdown, I joined the Virtual Teddy Bear’s Picnic hosted by Marama Davidson from the Green Party. It was pitched as a children’s event but was attended solely by parents of voting age who wished to express some of their concerns in lockdown.
Facing Accessibility Barriers During Lockdown
I spoke about the difficulties we have experienced in lockdown with limited access to care workers and inaccessible distance education. My son Edward has epilepsy and with the majority of online learning facilitated through digital classrooms, his learning at home has severely suffered, as has his health whenever we have tried to participate online. The two days where we tried to do the full digital lesson plan resulted in significant spikes in his seizure activity. As he has an immune deficiency, we cannot risk hospitalisation during COVID-19 and so we decided not to persist further, and consequently started trying to translate the digital activities into offline equivalents.
As a mother also to a newborn, and trying to juggle my own work, plus my baby’s routine and now in a teacher aide role, it feels very much like the struggles of all parents working from home are much more sorely felt by those in the disability sector. I felt like our needs were neglected when the national plan was rolled out. I assume we are not alone in having higher hygiene requirements than the average household due to Edward’s immune deficiency. Losing our cleaners as well as care workers has increased the burden on me exponentially at a time when I am especially at risk for poor mental health outcomes in a post-natal period, with diagnosed PTSD, anxiety and depression. We can’t risk exposure at the supermarket so are heavily reliant on click and collect. Frequently, crucial items for Eddy’s ketogenic diet are inappropriately substituted for things he can’t eat or they are left off entirely due to panic-buying shortages. Supports for the access community should have been made a priority as we are already more vulnerable and isolated than the able population.
Level of Equity Needed for Access Community
Marama was very receptive to the accessibility discussion and this formed the majority of the rest of the zoom conference. She reiterated the importance of highlighting this issue to other Members of Parliament in a pre-election climate. She spoke to her contribution to the accessible education discussion and that hardpacks were available from the Ministry of Education (MOE) on request. I pointed out that this information was not readily available on MOE or Ministry of Health (MOH) websites. I also noted that the disability page on the MOH website was not available in Easy Read format or completed at the time we spoke. I found there was very little clarity around how disabled people should navigate lockdown alone, apart from washing their hands and maintaining social distance, which presumes a relatively high physical and mental independence. I said it was clear that accessibility legislation, were it in place already, would have enforced some level of equity for us during isolation.
Marama addressed the group and explained who the Access Alliance is and the work they do. She explained why accessibility legislation was crucial during periods of national emergency and shared the Access Matters campaign website link I had provided for other attendees to upload their access stories during lockdown. Marama requested that we further this conversation in a separate follow-up and her community outreach advisor contacted me immediately via private message to talk more at a later date.
Call for Accessibility Legislation
I support accessibility legislation in Aotearoa New Zealand, as I believe it will help ensure all people are treated equally particularly during times of crisis and hardship.
This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.