COVID Blog: My Disability-Led Workplace Handled COVID-19 Better Than My School and Hospitals By Listening to Young Disabled People

by Issy Orosz

As a disabled and queer young person, I wear several “hats” including: a final year high school student, a worker in the disability sector, and someone who has had multiple long-term hospital stays. During the pandemic, my collection of “hats” has filled my life with complexity, confusion, and intensity.  

COVID-19 made my life as a disabled person challenging. Before the pandemic, I relied on consistent supports to maintain my health and wellbeing, however, lockdowns demolished these resources and routines – almost overnight. 

In my last year of highschool, amidst COVID-19 and a failed governmental response, all my classes chaotically shifted online with limited flexibility and capacity for personal differences. This uprooted the foundation that I needed whenever my mental and physical health began to collapse. Instead of focusing on academic success, I was forced to accommodate an already inaccessible education system by lowering expectations of myself. 

These changes severely impacted my mental and physical health. Out of necessity, I sought psychiatric help. Again,even in crisis, after I found a doctor and was admitted to the hospital, I was required to accept and accommodate an antiquated medical system, where I was frequently misgendered, invalidated, and triggered. While I am grateful to have access to a place that guaranteed 24/7 food, safety, and support, I did not completely receive the help that I needed, and I was required to be admitted again, three months after my initial month-long hospital stay.  

Now, as I write this, in the third week of my second hospital stay, I am proud that I know that I am not well enough to leave yet. Yes, it is even more isolating being in a hospital during COVID-19, but I am not better. I am not well. Nevertheless, I am working on it, in arguably the hardest time to work on it, which, for me, is enough.

Despite the adversity faced in the education and medical systems, I have been immensely privileged to be employed as a lived-experience workshop facilitator in a youth disability advocacy service. In fact, I have even had the opportunity to take on extra hours to focus on a pandemic response project. 

Unlike in other areas of my life, the people that I work with are also disabled young people. This has meant that in response to the pandemic, equipped with the understanding and voices of disabled young people, my workplace has been extremely supportive, granting me the opportunity to successfully transition to remote working. Furthermore, when my capacity to work was altered, the organization accommodated and validated my needs.  

The failure of other institutions to meet my needs is apparent and frustrating, especially when juxtaposed to my employer.  

I am abundantly aware of the rarity of a situation as positive as mine in the context of work. Most work environments are just as inaccessible as other institutions. Yet, why should they be? By providing me with the resources and assistance that I needed, I was able to protect my health, contribute meaningfully to my work and the world around me, and succeed. If we provide disabled people the accommodations that suit our individual needs in all aspects of life, we can level the playing field and give us the opportunity to display and reach our potential.    

This period has been the hardest of my life. I have been the most unwell and unstable as ever while being ignored and put at risk by all except my employer.

I genuinely cannot tell you what next week will look like – let alone the end of 2020 and beyond. The nature of being disabled, especially during a time as extreme and unforgiving as this pandemic, is that we are underrepresented and asked to accept broken systems. I have seen that to its fullest extent. However, I will do as much as I can to make it through next week, the rest of 2020, and whatever exists past then. The disability community is strong, and with their support and strength, we can make our voices heard and create a more flexible, accommodating, and kind world, post COVID-19.

About the author

Photo of Issy Orosz, a young white disabled person with short brown and lavender hair. They are wearing a plaid blazer, black turtleneck sweater, and round glasses.

Issy (they/them) is a 17 year old queer and disabled person. They live in Naarm (or so called Melbourne, Australia). They work in the disability and youth space and frequently present and write about disability, education, queerness, social justice, and intersectionality, all from their lived experience. You can find them on social media @issyhay. Their website is issyhaywriting.webnode.com/


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