The world as we knew it, changed drastically in 2020.
The Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19) unleashed it's deadly fangs into the world without mercy.
Life grounded to a standstill. Lots of loss of propety, jobs and life followed.
The human spirit of resilience could not be broken and so, while citizens around the globe went into an enforced sabbatical, the digital space came alive even more forcefully. Work, school, conferences even tele medicine became the norm.
One way or another, life has to go on even if it means from the comfort and safety of our homes.
While these efforts at a semblance of life in a most confusing and chaotic period since after World War II when majority of us were yet to be born and only got to read in books happen were vastly applauded, there was one community that got even more frustrated with the turn out of this digitally advanced world- the deaf and hearing impaired community.
I have written about the challenges and difficulties I experienced as someone with hearing impairment in a masked world. Today, I will write about some of the challenges I have experienced over the past almost two years since the beginning of this COVID 19 era as the world became increasingly digital and how left behind I felt.
With the need to continue living through a period determined to ground life at a stand still, technology became the ruling king. That means practically everything went online.
When I heard about online conferences for example, I was super excited about being able to access some high profile conferences which could have otherwise been impossible without some sponsorship or visa to travel. I imagined being in the same room with so many people I have only hoped to one day be able to meet them albeit virtually and as the conferences approach, so to my excitement. Still, this same excitement would slowly start to wane when asking how inclusive the conferences were going to be for people with hearing impairment was usually often met with 'We didn't think about that but thank you for letting us know, we will consider that next time'. Or with responses like 'Please register and attend and we will see how to make it work for you' only for me to register, attend and find myself looking at my screen for long hours, unsure of what I was even doing there; starring blankly and willing someone to do the needful. When this repeated itself many times, I decided to opt out of the conferences, calls, zoom meetings etc altogether.
I mean my time was just as valuable. I couldn't continue logging into conferences and ending up starring at my screen instead of doing something else, no matter how much I wanted to be at the said conference, especially after repeatedly asking how inclusive the conferences would be and being reassured there will be ways to look into matters.
A few actually tried. As a matter of fact, I got two groups to include closed captions during their conferences, got others to find transcribers pro bono or sign language interpreters. Challenged many others to think out the box and think inclusiveness when arranging their webinars, zoom calls or conferences. These were small wins but not entirely as the vast majority continued to be indifferent to the plight of the deaf and hearing impaired community despite the fact that things were changing rapidly and faster in an increasingly digital world.
In 2020, I enrolled into an MA program in Human Resources Management. Before even registering, I asked questions, emphasizing that I am hearing impaired and would need to know how they intend to make the program inclusive for me. I was assured that my concerns would be taken into consideration and I should go ahead and apply.
Needless to say, after many months of back and forth with me suggesting how best my needs could be accommodated and the powers that be doing something else entirely, for the first time in my life out of frustration and despite wanting so badly to do that MA program, I had to drop out. I will forever be grateful to the two female lecturers who went above and beyond to try to accommodate me take this program since it was an online program but it wasn't enough because, I had more lectures and course loads to carry to be able to complete the MA. I still nurse dreams of going back for the program though I am weary because I am still unsure how things may have changed since then.
The daily struggles and questions just to be sure I could easily and confidently attend an online program without much ado painfully and forcefully brings to the fore, the realities of a community left far behind in a fast paced and advancing digital world.
Technology giants were not too quick, I dare say to make their platforms more accessible for the deaf and hearing impaired community or those who used the platforms for their conferences, meetings etc were not too inclined to think beyond the 'normal' and think inclusion in all it's dimensions.
Even when invited to talk on shows and platforms, I had to ask, how are you going to make this inclusive so that I do not appear like a blabbering fool on air speaking seeming gibberish?
That is why I am always grateful to World Pulse for being ahead of the game and leaving no stone unturned towards a more inclusive and all encompassing community where no one feels left behind, where everyone feels included and carried along as the tides ebb and flow and inevitable change happen.
I recently completed MIUSA' s WILD virtual program for three weeks and I was more than impressed and touched by the length with which everything was done to make EVERYONE present feel included and I was like this is how inclusion has to be! World Pulse and MIUSA are two powerful organisations focused on empowering women and that includes taking into account disability rights and inclusion and they have a simple but powerful model that can easily be replicated over and over to make room for diversity and inclusion. For that to be effective and powerful such that everyone feels included and not left behind while the world moves faster ahead, there has to be the WILL to do so. I have been with some few organisations recently who are making the efforts after listening to my quest and suggestions on how to make their platforms more inclusive.
Aspire for Equality is one such platform which had take my concerns to heart and start including close captions to their online conferences.
The battle is still a long way but every little steps where the will is existing is a sure assurance of what can be done when there is both a will and a desire to make sure no one is left behind.
Until people start thinking inclusion fully, as the world moves and grows digitally, disability justice and inclusion will remain elusive because the deaf and hearing impaired community will remain the community that is constantly left behind in a fast changing world.