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Self-Advocates, COVID-19, and Pandemic Life

COVID-19 has changed all of our lives, in some cases pushing us apart, and in other cases, bringing us closer together. The challenges and tragedies we’ve all faced, however, are also very acutely felt by those in our community with intellectual disabilities. To get a sense of their perspective on all of this, I talked to two of our Self-Advocates, Aiden Young and Sydney Risler.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic?

Aiden: Initially, I suspected the lockdown was temporary and only going to last a few weeks. When the first state of emergency was declared, anxiety was high in my social environment which affected many around me. That said, the pandemic helped me gain a new perspective on the importance of community and social networking. Throughout history, individuals with intellectual disabilities have often faced isolation and being alone. This lockdown has allowed those without disabilities to experience the isolation that many with intellectual disabilities face every day. In the case of support staff, the pandemic has allowed them to better understand the perspective of the persons they support which allows them to sympathize and fully appreciate the value of community inclusion as well as community engagement that we often take for granted.

Sydney: The lessons I’ve learned about the pandemic are that social distancing isn’t as bad as I thought and that wearing a mask is ok. At the beginning for me it was scary and I didn’t really go out much.

How has Inclusion Saskatchewan helped you during the pandemic?

Aiden: Participating in the development process of the INSK Plain Language Guides to SK Re-Opening with a team of fellow Self-Advocates through Zoom brought a sense of structure. A group of INSK Self-Advocates from all across the province virtually meet on Wednesdays to discuss various projects and discussions which wouldn’t be possible in person. Thanks to these calls, Self-Advocates from across the province get to take part in events and Inclusion Tours hosted by different cities. The technological learning curve for the Inclusion staff to attend meetings was certainly a source of entertainment.

Sydney: Inclusion Saskatchewan has helped me during the pandemic by doing weekly check-ins via Zoom calls. This has allowed me to connect in a social way that we didn’t have before covid.

What advice would you give to Self-Advocates who are struggling right now?

Aiden: This is the point in history where we get to use our experiences to help others cope throughout the pandemic and spread awareness that many individuals living with disabilities experience social isolation and exclusion. This is the time in history where you reflect on your life and truly appreciate who you are. Living with a disability, my life has never had a sense of normalcy. Also, everyone’s sense of normalcy is different and what is normal for some people is not normal for others.

Sydney: The advice I would give to other Self-Advocates who are struggling like I was at the beginning is: it is all okay. We are all going to get through this. I know that it doesn’t feel like it, but we are. Life will return to normal one day, but for now it is best to keep everyone safe and healthy cause we are all in it together.


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