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Finding the Silver Lining of COVID-19 as Someone With a Disability

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Every pandemic has a silver lining. Fortunately, we don’t have the history to truly back up this statement, but the silver I have found is a gleaming sliver of faith in my personal growth and future.

Social distancing is impossible if you have disabilities as severe as mine. Without physical contact, I would be unable to use the bathroom, get dressed, shower or even roll over. When the fear of COVID-19 started to ravage New Jersey, I was frightened and anxious. Not only because I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to fight the virus, but because it meant contact with my personal care aides was too dangerous. I would have to leave my apartment and my version of independence and go home to my parents for my care.

College students all over the world will never forget the Spring Term of 2020. I had a great schedule and an internship I worked so hard to get. My responsibilities included improving the accessibility of our website for the disabled population and to create ways to increase the utilization of it within our community. As an intern, I was invited to attend weekly training sessions and staff meetings at Rutgers. Unfortunately, as with any activity that requires transportation sitting in my wheelchair for extended periods, the reality of attending those events was slim.

And then, COVID-19 hits! Effective immediately, all offices are closed and all meetings, training sessions, and conferences will be held virtually. Instantly, I went from making excuses and wishing I could go, to signing up for every lecture, networking event, and meeting I could fit into a calendar. Meetings with my supervisor also increased because she had more availability. I know this time with her was invaluable and helped me secure an offer for a second internship with her in the fall to continue my research.

Back at school, remote learning is a blessing for me. My chronic pain, inability to regulate my body temperature, and weak immune system make in-person classes very challenging. I love school and my grades and degree mean so much to me, but many times each semester my health will keep me from making it to class in person. While I understand how disappointing the current situation is for so many, I have enjoyed attending all my classes and learning from the professors directly.

Utilizing technology and maximizing its potential is critical for me. I need to rely on technological tools for my health, work, independence, emotional well-being and social integration. The pandemic has put the world’s reliance on technology into overdrive and fast-forwarded our academic and medical fields into so many new ways of normal. Allowing doctors to treat patients over Zoom or enabling children to visit a virtual zoo are all examples of how technology can improve our lives. For me, it is a door that has been opened.

I am truly sorry for all the lives lost, the pain the sick endure and the economic suffering we all are facing. My mother was laid off, my younger sister had to leave her happy freshman life away at school, and my twin brother is graduating into a horrible job market and with no big graduation ceremony to mark his achievement. My entire family remains in constant fear that I will catch the virus or that one of them will catch it and not be able to care for me. I know our fear is felt worldwide and is a deep source of pain we will never forget.

I have always been told to look through all the bad, all the pain, and all the reasons why life is unfair to see the good. I have been given the gift of time with my brother and sister and parents. Under normal circumstances, the new memories we have made would have never happened. For me, this is a gift that truly could never be replaced or replicated. Zoom meetings with my extended family and friends allow connections that were fading and have been reignited. I’ve realized my silver lining is a silver rectangular object some call a laptop.

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Getty image by Jacob Lund.

Originally published: September 14, 2020
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