Covid-19 won’t stop disabled community from finding connection

Rachel Adams/March 10, 2020

Elliott and Greta have been self-isolating for weeks before governments began setting out restrictions.
(Rachel Adams/BCIT News)

Greta and Elliott Hedley are a mother and son who live in the East Vancouver area. Elliott is a young adult with challenges and a compromised immune system.

Greta has worked for years with other parents of disabled children to create a community where their children can thrive. Those children are now adults with rich and creative and social lives.

“Elliott has a wide group of friends who all have challenges and the parents have all worked over the years to help them have as much of a normal life as possible. And part of that has been to help them find jobs and social activities that aren’t overwhelming for them. And as they get older there’s certainly fewer groups but we’ve found them.” – Greta Hedley

All of that has changed now that the risk of Covid-19 has restricted them from leaving the house. People with compromised immune systems have to be even more careful because the impact of getting sick could be devastating. Many of Elliott’s friends are also immunocompromised and have been isolating for weeks.

Elliot has mild cerebral palsy, and a case of pneumonia as a child has left him with weak lungs. Because of this he and Greta are doing everything they can to prevent him from contracting Covid-19.

“When this is all over I just hope my friends are not sick or anything.” – Elliott Hedley

Covid-19 has disrupted daily life for Elliott

“He had his days full of certain activities and now all those are of course closed for him.” – Greta Hedley

Elliott has been interested in film and theatre since attending high school at Templeton Secondary. In Recent years Elliott has been involved with a drama program called Stage Door that operates out of the Vancouver Heritage Hall. This season’s production is closed due to Covid-19.

Elliot was also supposed to be employed as part of a drama program called Lead Ensemble, an inclusive theatre production, also cancelled due to Covid-19. Another creative project that has been cancelled is an upcoming documentary project for Blazin’ Soccer Dogs, an inclusive soccer club for children and youth with disabilities.

Organizations mobilizing to provide online support

Many organizations that provide services to people with disabilities are still operating. They are now providing programs and services remotely. One such organization is posAbilities, which offers employment services, assistance in home living, and many community involvement programs.

Monique Nelson, Director of Community Engagement at posAbilities said day programs provide adults with “meaningful days making contributions to their communities by volunteering (delivering meals on wheels, hosting knitting clubs), and participating in recreation and leisure activities.”

Nelson said that for weeks before official self-isolation policies in the province began to roll out, the organization was taking steps to provide families time to arrange income assistance and take other steps to transition into isolation. They also began training employees to work with individuals in various living situations while maintaining safety.

“The individuals we serve and their families rely on our sector for important services that not only keep people safe but also socially connected” – Monique Nelson/Director of Community Engagement at posAbilities

There have been efforts from organizations across North America to provide people with disabilities meaningful connection and activities throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic. posAbilities has provided new web pages for Covid-19 information and resources. There are many interactive activities on Facebook and other online platforms. Activities include arts and crafts, music parties, and mindfulness workshops. posAbilities has teamed up with a number of other organizations such as Bell Let’s Talk, Kinsight, and Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion to create the website to help people with challenges find social connection and fun activities during this time.

“Self-Advocacy refers to people with developmental disabilities speaking up for themselves instead of being directed by paid professionals” – Krystian Shaw
(Krystian Shaw/Kamloops Self Advocacy Nework)

How to manage isolation

Krystian Shaw is the founder of the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter, a column run by the Self Advocacy Network based in Kamloops. He is also an advocate for the disabled community. Shaw knows firsthand the consequences of getting sick with Covid-19. He was recently hospitalized after contracting the virus. He has since been released and was in quarantine for the last two weeks. He lives with his mother who is immunocompromised, and they fear that she will get sick too.

Shaw and his mother have found many challenges even in simple daily tasks while in isolation

“Unless you are totally isolated, not being able to go out even for a walk, you have to jump a lot of hurdles” – Krystian Shaw/founder of the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter

Shaw describes the process of overcoming simple daily tasks such as getting the mail or taking out the garbage as complicated for them at the moment. They have had to give a neighbour a key to the mailbox. Shaw’s social worker comes by to take the garbage out for them. Groceries are ordered online and delivered. Shaw says appointments with his doctor are now on the phone, and his prescriptions are called into the pharmacy and delivered.

Shaw says staying connected online is crucial for the mental health of those in the disabled community.

“People with challenges need a social outlet to avoid depression. The computer is our only reach to the outside world right now” – Krystian Shaw/founder of the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter

Shaw schedules times to see friends and play games on Zoom. He says talking on the phone with friends has also helped him cope at the moment.

Shaw’s advice for people with disabilities who are having a hard time coping is to reach out.

“If they find things are lacking or needing in their life during this time, call service providers and let your needs be known” – Krystian Shaw/founder of the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter

Creative solutions

Even though Elliott and Greta are stuck inside for most of their days, they have found creative solutions to keep Elliott connected with his social network. Using the internet to connect has been instrumental for Elliott’s social life during isolation. Zoom has been particularly useful.

Birthday parties have always been a sacred tradition in their community, so when Elliott turned 24 on April 1 they turned what should have been a crowded event into a virtual party over Zoom.

Elliott’s virtual birthday party. Elliot, Greta, and Greta’s partner, Gary Jones, are on the top row, second from the right.
(Greta Hedley)

“My greatest challenge is missing my friends for the most part.” – Elliott Hedley

Elliott uses Zoom to have online jam sessions with his cousin in England.
(Greta Hedley)

He also uses Zoom to connect with his cousin in England. Elliott plays guitar so the two of them began to have live jam sessions to pass the time. He has virtual dungeons and dragons sessions with his friends.

Since many of Elliott’s creative projects have been put on hold indefinitely, he is planning to make a documentary about his and his friends’ time during isolation.

Even though he has much of his days occupied with these new activities, he says nothing is quite the same as human interaction.