As a self-advocate, 2020 has been very rough on me. I am sure I am not the only person with a disability that feels this way. In a normal year, I would have traveled at least once, maybe twice, out of state to conferences to learn about issues that matter to people with disabilities, to meet with friends – both old and new – and gather encouragement on how to better advocate here in Arkansas. Covid-19 changed all of that.
For example this year, I have had to attend all but a few events online and have learned a few things. First, things that normally would not happen in person meetings happen online. “Co-workers” – i.e. – someone’s pets or kids (or both) make appearances. People sometimes interrupt the speaker on zoom by unmuting themselves, which can be distractions to those who process things differently. Several other things have become normal. It’s not that I don’t like it, but it’s hard to focus on learning more about advocacy when you see someone’s cat walking across the screen while the person is speaking.
I would like to propose a few resolutions for 2021 when it comes to online conferences until we can meet back in person again. First, I would hope people resolve to try to look their best on camera – or to resolve to leave the camera off. Second, I would like to see people try to keep distractions to a minimum. I love seeing people’s pets and things, but maybe they can give them a place to stay outside of camera view. Third, I would like to see people resolve to mute themselves more if they are not speaking, or for hosts to mute everyone except those who are speaking (if it is a conference event that does not require voice feedback from the participants). It is sometimes hard to focus if you have Autism Spectrum Disorder and others are talking over the speaker.
Hopefully vaccines will soon start taking effect and we can go back to somewhat normal. I do know that we will still be doing online events at least for a little while longer, but I also see the need for possibly combining online and in-person conferences in the future. So hopefully as we get more used to Zoom, we can also learn to respect others and help to advocate for inclusive practices and rules.
Michael Thornton is Self-Advocate Coordinator for Disability Rights Arkansas. You can email him at mthornton@disabilityrightsAR.org.