We are not short of answers; we are short of the right questions.Sukant Ratnakar
I am immunocompromised.
So are several members of my family. So are many members of my community.
I also have several major health problems (all caused by genetics and post-viral issues).
For me, and many of the people I know, COVID is a tangible threat. The kind of thing from which we might not recover, even if vaccinated.
Here in Australia, so far my threat of catching COVID has been minimal. But as we begin to open up that will change.
I’m not writing today to promote one side of the argument or the other. To vaccinate or not to vaccinate.
That’s your personal choice. And it’s a complex issue.
What I want to do today is to advocate for people like me.
It’s been proven that social distancing, wearing masks, practicing good hygiene (including using hand sanitiser) and being vaccinated reduces your risk of catching, and of transmitting COVID.
Also, not awesome, because there are people who do not want to wear masks, get vaccinated, practice social distancing or take other steps to minimise possible transmission risk. I respect your right to choose, and I respect the need for businesses to make money, and for people to be able to live their lives and to protect their own mental health and wellbeing. Many people (vaccinated and non-vaccinated) don’t want to live in a segregated society, and as vaccination rates climb it’s expected that we will do away with a lot of the measures that helped keep us safe before vaccines were widely available.
But that leaves me, and thousands of other people with disabilities or health issues, with a dilemma.
I want to be able to minimise my risk of catching COVID. That’s harder to do when there is no way for me to know if someone is vaccinated or not, and when social distancing and mask wearing is no longer mandated.
I have as much right to personal freedom and access to services as anyone. But I’m at higher risk.
Does that mean I should resign myself to never going out in public again? Never going shopping? Never eating out? Never going to the hairdresser, doctor, dentist?
My local supermarket offers a ‘Quiet Hour’ every week. For one hour each week the store turns down its lights, turns off the music, turns off the oven buzzers and creates a calm and quiet shopping environment to help reduce anxiety and stress for people who have sensory issues (such as Autistic people). This gives people with different accessibility needs the opportunity to be independent, and to shop in an environment that is less stressful and overwhelming.
I’d love to be able to have a certain time or day each week where people like me could access a service or visit premises and know that protocols were being followed to minimise the risks of spreading COVID. I would be so grateful to be able to engage with the world like that.
I’m not asking for a lot. I’m just asking for access and equity for those of us whose physical circumstances put us at higher risk every time we leave our home.
It would also be good to know that, if I need someone to come to my home to provide a service, that they can comply with my need for them to wear a mask, to socially distance and to follow hygiene practices which will minimise my risk. Would I prefer to know if they are vaccinated? Yes, I would. My life is at stake. I am happy if people prefer to decline to reveal their status, or would prefer not to do business with me because of my needs. But I want people to be honest with me, so that I can make informed decisions about my own wellbeing. This is not an issue of judgement or segregation based on your choices – it’s an issue of risk assessment, and me and my family’s personal safety.
I want us to be able to have these conversations.
It’s frustrating when I hear able-bodied and perfectly healthy people discussing COVID as a personal freedom or political issue, when, for some of us, it is so much more serious than that. Everyone is entitled to their choices. I just ask that in the mix, the room is made for the disability and chronic illness community to be able to maintain some safe access to services and to have the opportunity to have life choices too.
Respectfully, Nicole xx