I spoke on BBC Radio Sheffield about disability during lockdown and accessibility as we open up

Last week, I published an article with Now Then magazine about the strangeness of things becoming more accessible in many ways during the lockdowns, and the relentless accessibility checks I’m having to do again now that the world is opening back up.

I was contacted by BBC Radio Sheffield to talk to them about it and this was my interview with Paulette Edwards. A transcript is below the video and the video also has subtitles.

Okay to me, but he was nice enough to join me for a quick call. So July the 19th was fun for Dan.
However, a lot of people, a lot of us still anxious.
Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer from Sheffield.
She says that lockdown, while brutal for people living with some people, living with disabilities
also made participation in some activities easier, but now people with disabilities are facing new barriers as the world opens back up.
She’s here to explain a little bit more Philippa. Thank you for coming on to talk to us about this. How are you?
I’m good thank you. How are you? All
Right, thank you. Let’s start with the positive. Then you say lock down, made participation easier
in some ways for people living with disabilities. How
I think in a number of ways, I think one thing is that a lot of disabled people for several years
have been wanting the ability to work from home either all the time or some of the time.
And employers for years have said, oh no, that’s not practical. We can’t possibly set that up.
And then suddenly over about a week, last year, suddenly everybody, well obviously if you have a
certain type of job, you were set up to work from home.
And that made life a lot easier for people who might have been struggling to get physically into
an office, but perfectly able to do the job the rest of the time.
And also things like over the last year and a half, I’ve attended all kinds of conferences and events that,
had they not been online, I just wouldn’t
have made, made it to, whether that’s because they were far away or more for accessibility reasons.
Things like if I wouldn’t have the stamina to attend a three day event, but I, if I can put it on, on
zoom and have a bit of a lie down when somebody’s talking, then that’s great. That makes it really accessible for me.
Do you mind me asking what disability you’re living with, Philippa?
I don’t mind you asking, but it’s kind of a complicated answer. I have,
I have a collection of things that mainly manifest in a lot of pain,
Right? So that’s, that’s the, the answer that means that for you, there are lots of things that you couldn’t
do before that you could do now that you could have done during lockdown that you said with the access of the
internet and technology. So did you ask you ever ask your employer if you could, you know, make maybe
today have a bit of time to yourself work from home rather than go
In. I have been in the lucky position of being self-employed anyway.
So working from home was already my norm. So I personally didn’t have that experience. Did
You, I mean, I think this is something that may be, I think about my friends who have had surgery or, you know, living with a disability for whatever period of time that was some of them,
you know, always living with a disability and they’ve tried to manage things with their employers,
they’ve not been working for themselves. They’ve managed things with their employers and they’ve not been given
the answer that may be, they could have got. And, you know, as you said, things changed over a week, didn’t they?
Yes. So it shows that it had been possible all that time.
And we knew this disabled people knew that that certainly in recent years with most people having a
speedy Wi-Fi at home and a lot of people having their own laptop for instance, that this wasn’t an impossibility to put into place.
It would take a bit of work, but really not that much, but it was, I had so many people, so many disabled people who ended up having to
leave their jobs when they could have carried on managing it. If they’d been allowed to work from home or work from home, some of the time
You are painting at the positive side of, you know, cause I thinking about conferences, actually,
I hosted a conference a few weeks ago from my back bedroom Philippa and I was good. I didn’t have a pajama bottoms on or anything.
I was a good girl and dressed up properly. Excellent, very impressive.
But it was incredible. Networking! Speakers! Everything, just on these incredible platforms.
So, you know, do you think things will change long-term then around how we do things?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? I have some hope that there will be changes.
I’m seeing a lot of people talk about to things like meetings and conferences talk about like a hybrid model where they’re both online and in person events.
And I think if people can work something out that’s really effective in that, in that sphere, then that could be a really positive way forward.
Both for the people who are able and keen to turn up. And those for whom accessing it online is, is better. That’s proper
Inclusivity. Isn’t it. We’re going to talk about what yesterday meant for you and how you felt as things started to open up more in a bit, we’re just gonna have some music
I’m talking to Philippa Willitts, freelance writer from Sheffield, living with a disability and just talking about how the last 18 months have been for her.
If you would like to add to this discussion, you can, of course you can 8 1 3 double three, start your message with Sheffield.
That’s a text number to call 0800 triple one forty nine forty nine.
This is clean bandit with Mabel and 24 K golden there and 24 K golden as well all together with that beautiful song.
So I’m talking to Philippa Willitts, she’s a freelance writer from Sheffield, she’s living with disabilities.
And we were talking about how the last 18 months have been for you, Philippa.
And you said some of it has actually given you more access to things that you may not have been able to have access to.
You are self-employed. So the idea of working from home was absolutely fine for you. Is that true?
Yeah, I was already doing it. So that was no shift at all. Yeah,
Absolutely fine with that. What about the bits that weren’t easy?
So we did have quite a bit of a chat about sign language and you know, the daily briefings for people who were hearing impaired,
there were issues of people having access to things, not being able to leave their homes and feeling marginalized and
feeling forgotten about really. Was any of it difficult for you then?
I think there were aspects of lockdown that were difficult for everybody really weren’t there?
I think, you know, my mental health certainly had the odd wobble because of feeling very isolated at times and getting out and about was harder than usual.
And, and yes, as you say, the, the issue with the government not providing the sign language interpreters for the, for these life and death briefings was, was ridiculous really.
And they still haven’t fixed that. The Scottish government, they provide their own,
the Welsh government do, governments across the world do and for some reason, Westminster has resisted it,
even though it would be a minor expense and it would make literal life and death issues, you know, more clear to a significant community.
Weird for me to ask you as somebody living with a disability, your disability is not that you’re hearing impaired.
And I suppose what it says is that certain people are not important. And if it makes you feel a bit like that, is that how you felt on occasion?
Definitely. And especially as the statistics come through, it seems like every week now, there’s a new devastating statistic.
Last week I found out that people with learning disabilities were eight times more likely to die of COVID.
We know that disabled women were 91% more likely to die.
And, and these are all stats that come through, you know, about once a week. And you just think these are like my people and we’re all dying.
And obviously some of those people will have had conditions that made them more prone to catching it or more prone to getting COVID more seriously if they did catch it.
But that doesn’t explain it all. Especially like the group with learning disabilities,
you know, often that’s completely unrelated to anything to do with physical health.
And so, you know, when that whiteboard photo came out a few weeks ago and there was a question on it that said, who do we not save?
There’s been a really strong sense amongst a lot of disabled people that the answer to that question was disabled people.
I think it’s, it’s been a very frightening time
July the 19th then, yesterday, as we moved towards the day. You know, people were calling it freedom day.
No-one mentioned that yesterday actually, because it didn’t feel that how did that feel for you that knowing that things were going to open up
A real mixture. On the one hand, like everybody, I’m desperate to go to the pub with my friends and have a beer and you know, just have a nice time.
But at the same time, very, very wary.
The statistics are looking quite scary in terms of infection numbers, just based on what I’ve seen on the news at least.
But also there’s a big fear amongst a lot of disabled people that once it’s no longer the law that people have to wear face masks or socially distance, then that puts everybody else at more risk.
So I wasn’t, there were these categorizations and I, wasn’t what they called clinically extremely vulnerable, which is the people who had to shield,
but I was clinically vulnerable, so I didn’t have to fully shield, but I had to take extra precautions.
And that has felt like some degree of safety if I go to the shop, that I know that most people will be wearing a face mask.
And I don’t know how, I mean, I’ve seen a lot of reports of people saying they’re going to carry on wearing them.
And I’ve also seen, like I’ve had contact, I’ve seen communications from companies as vastly different as Tesco compared to Beanies the little wholefood cooperative,
both saying it’s not the law anymore, but we’d really appreciate it if you’d carry on wearing a mask.
And that makes you feel better?
It does, it makes me feel more welcome and it makes, I understand their concern they’re doing it for themselves and for their customers.
And, and so the fear about opening up is whether it’s going to be safe, but particularly whether people are going to stop taking the precautions now they don’t legally have to,
How did you prepare then?
Obviously you’ve talked a little bit about it there, but you said in your article, which is in Now Then, that you and which is online, you know, there are paper copies as well –
that you’d have to go back to completing all your access accessibility checks before going anywhere.
What does that involve for you then? Philippa?
It’s a nightmare when I have, it’s been so long since I’ve been socialising that I’d forgotten the process,
but yeah, I found myself making arrangements.
Like just a couple of times, I’ve been out for lunch with a friend and I’ve booked online. Like you’re meant to.
And then later on, I’ve thought, oh, I need to check things. I need to check whether these are tables I can sit at.
I need to check whether I can park close by because I can’t walk very far.
So I need to see where the parking is and to see whether that’s accessible to me,
I need to check whether there are steps I need. And so it starts with looking at say, I’m going to a cafe.
It starts with looking at that cafe’s website and hoping there’s a page at the top called accessibility
that has plenty of information.
But often even if there is that page, it will just be wheelchair accessibility information.
And so I’m not a wheelchair user.
And obviously, you know, if somebody is partially sighted, they need different things.
If somebody struggles with their balance, they need different information.
And so it’s quite difficult. It’s very rare actually to find a comprehensive summary of accessibility information. So I end up looking on Google Street View for photos. So you
Know what, this sounds exhausting.
So what would you tell businesses then?
What do they need to be considering when people who live with disabilities are coming to see them, what do they need to think of?
What do they need to make it easier for you to know and find,
I think a good start would be a really comprehensive page on their website dedicated just to this where they say sure, say it says a ramp,
say if there are wheelchair accessible toilets, but also say whether your menus are available in Braille,
say what the lighting is like, say whether there are, whether the tables in your cafe are high up so you have to sit on a tall stool or whether they’re low down and you sit on a regular chair,
there’s all kinds of information that can be useful for different people.
And if you take the time just once to provide it really comprehensively, that will answer a lot of people’s questions
For them. We actually went to Nottingham
A couple of weeks ago with my friends.
I went with my friends and we went, we were going to a restaurant in the evening and they said, oh, you’re going to be sitting on high chairs. Is that all right?
And we were so impressed with that, that, you know, taking the time to say, this is what it’s going to be like, will you be all right with that?
We were very, very impressed with them. Well, Philippa, it’s been lovely to talk to you.
I’m sure we’ll talk again. I hope that the next few weeks continue to be positive for you.
And as I said, we will, we will continue to, to have this conversation. Philippa Willitts freelance writer from Sheffield telling us about her experience of the last 18 months.
You’re listening to Paulette Edwards.
Image credit: Disabled and Here