(May 4, 2020 / JNS) I am so proud of us. All of us.
Though the coronavirus crisis bears an eerie resemblance to the pandemic portrayed in Steven Soderbergh’s film “Contagion” back in 2011, one marked difference is the power of our humanity in 2020. While that cinematic realm quickly plummeted into chaos, civil unrest and lawlessness, our world remains rooted in kindness and hope.
As the unrelenting virus continues to claim the lives of multitudes around the globe, we have responded with serious introspection and copious goodwill, transforming into the very best versions of ourselves—more grateful, helpful, compassionate and empathetic than ever before. Compelled to maintain a safe social distance, we figured out how to stay grounded and connected while improving and advancing our world.
Instead of bemoaning our solitary seder experiences, we made sure that Passover included quality time with our extended families via Zoom, and took the opportunity to actually read and appreciate the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
Rather than protesting our inability to gather for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), we produced meaningful virtual ceremonies and moving video tributes, and leveraged the lockdown to easily corral our kids and explain the importance of this poignant period.
Most surprisingly, while running countless campaigns from our kitchen tables and remaining tethered to our televisions to “flatten the curve,” we have effectively proven that we possess the skills, resources and creativity to remove all communal roadblocks for individuals with disabilities and that a truly inclusive society is entirely within our reach.
One of the most obvious examples is the ease with which our world went virtual. In a matter of days, everything from board meetings to birthday parties were being attended via video conference, as people of all ages began engaging online. While livestreams for weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals were once (no so long ago) seen as a low-priority “add-on” to benefit a few individuals who could not attend in person, we were thrust into a new reality in which life-cycle events could only be attended from the comfort of our own homes. Though there’s still no substitute for in-person interactions, we quickly learned that virtual participation was considerably more effective than we once thought.
After being forced to work from home for nearly two months, with largely excellent results, employers and team leaders in many industries will have to reconsider their stances on hiring individuals with mobility issues, those who were previously overlooked simply because they would have to collaborate with their colleagues from afar. And now that we’ve all seen how simple it is to include everyone in our special events, making accommodations for individuals with disabilities, starting with a great livestream, should be at the very top of our event planning “To Do” lists.
Another prime example is the unprecedented mobilization of resources to aid the infected, protect the immunocompromised and empower those on the frontlines.
When the medical and health-care professionals battling COVID-19 began reporting a critical shortage of personal protective equipment, individuals with no previous connections to the fields of medicine or manufacturing responded by pooling their resources to find the PPE in warehouses around the globe and redirecting them to hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.
In a similar vein, restaurants that have remained afloat by switching to delivery-only menus continue to provide free daily meals to first responders, doctors, nurses and other essential workers, often relying on volunteers from industries that are currently on hold, like real estate and travel, to make the deliveries.
By providing some much-needed perspective, this crisis has opened our hearts to the urgency of communal involvement and our eyes to how easily we can make a real difference in the lives of others. As we move forward, it’s crucial that we retain this outlook and put our resources and connections to use for the promotion of inclusion. After witnessing this virus spread like wildfire, the reach and impact of disability has never been clearer, and it should be understood that inclusion represents the very best future for all of us.
Finally, the pervasive attitude of gratitude, desire to assist others and genuine longing for community that underscores our time in mandatory quarantine speaks volumes about our ability to embrace an inclusive society.
With our craving for connection well-documented thanks to our phones, we’ve shared inspirational videos of quarantined citizens around the world applauding and cheering from their rooftops to honor their local first responders and health-care professionals, as well as the uplifting sights of entire neighborhoods joining together in song and prayer from the comfort of their own balconies. Still, to my mind, the videos that best capture the spirit of the day are those made by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh, a children’s book author from Los Angeles.
When Jamie heard that ALEH, Israel’s network of care for children, adolescents and adults with severe complex disabilities, was in complete lockdown to shield the residents—the most vulnerable members of Israeli society—from COVID-19, she immediately created a video series in which she and her husband, Danny, read her children’s books in Hebrew and English for the residents to enjoy. Weeks later, these videos are still fan favorites at all four ALEH centers, where the staff, volunteers and residents can’t get over the time, effort and palpable love that complete strangers now turned friends poured into their very special gift.
Never before has humankind been so distant from each other, yet felt so close. This is the feeling that we must carry with us always. This is the mindset upon which an inclusive society can be built.
As quarantine restrictions are loosened and we slowly return to our new normal, we must hold fast to the experiences that have allowed us to care so deeply, give so freely and see the world through empathetic eyes. We can never forget how it felt to prioritize personal development and actualize our good intentions. We can never forget how it felt to live simply and express genuine gratitude. And we can never forget how for many people, it felt to be excluded. Only when we are guided by these feelings can we create a world that is truly open to all.
Elie Klein is the director of development (United States and Canada) for ALEH, Israel’s network of care for children, adolescents and adults with severe complex disabilities, and an international advocate for disability inclusion, equity and access.
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