Posted On: June 30, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to readjust how we live in the world around us. What most people outside of the Disability community tend to forget is that some of the modifications we have just discovered are vital, everyday tools that some people with disabilities have been using for years.
I sat down with Starkloff Disability Institute’s contributing writer, Josh Sisson to explore some of the ways that he’s had to adapt as a blind man in the time of COVID-19.
When many of us were stockpiling food and household goods (who will ever forget the toilet paper shortage?), a number of us turned to services like Instacart, a service that allows you to shop your favorite grocery store from home, using your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Josh uses Instacart regularly to order groceries, and was shocked at the surge that the stay-at-home orders inadvertently caused. “I needed groceries anyway, but when I went to order, the wait times were about two weeks out,” he explained. “I made do with what I had, thankfully, but I cut it pretty close!”
I myself noticed the same wait time when I tried ordering through Instacart, so I chose to brave the in-store crowds. But that’s a privilege that sighted people have.
In order for Josh to shop in-store, he either has to go with a sighted friend or rely on the kindness of a store worker to help him navigate. In the middle of a pandemic that requires social distancing to stay safe, that’s just one more barrier to the in-store option.
Josh actually prefers ordering online anyway, as he is a self-proclaimed “nutrition freak,” who really pays attention to what he eats and prefers to read the labels and take his time in the aisles. While an assistant may not have the time to linger while helping Josh, he can do all of that sufficiently through apps like Instacart.
Many in the Disability community could benefit from Instacart’s shopping delivery model. Much attention has been drawn to the needs of people with disabilities who utilize the SNAP program to get food delivered to them in order to stay safely distanced and healthy.
Numerous shopping delivery platforms have gone back to pre-pandemic wait times, but they are not offering soap, paper products or disinfecting products for online purchase or delivery.
Josh utilizes various methods of transportation to get around, including public transit like the bus, but his method of choice is Uber. By using his phone, he is able to reliably call a driver to get him where he needs to be at the touch of a few buttons.
When information was still new about COVID-19 and how to stay safe, many drivers went offline. “It took so much longer to get a ride,” Josh reports. “I didn’t really have anywhere to be, but the wait times were so long, I ended up walking back to my house from the store.”
In the past few weeks, when public confidence has risen amidst state re-openings, Josh doesn’t have as much of a problem with the wait. “Uber is something that’s pretty much gone back to normal,” he shared.
One of the most intriguing things about Josh is his dedication to staying physically engaged. He once had a tibial stress fracture, but went out training for a half-marathon just before getting clearance from a doctor. That type of commitment doesn’t disappear during a pandemic, but it does change the way you conquer it.
Josh typically runs with a companion who can help him navigate streets and running paths safely. But as we all continue to socially distance, Josh had to get creative to work out on his treadmill at home – which is stuck at an incline and puts an uncomfortable strain on his calves.
Since St. Louis has started phasing re-opening, Josh is relieved at the possibility of training for another upcoming race at the gym. Unfortunately for him, almost every machine at his home gym is open — except the treadmills. “What’s more frustrating than anything is how public safety rules seem to be made arbitrarily. What makes an elliptical machine safer or different than a treadmill?” he laments.
Thankfully, he found another location outside of St. Louis City that offers treadmill access.
Being a freelance writer has its perks, one of which is the ability to work wherever and whenever you see fit. While the rest of the world is scrambling for laptops, webcams and internet access, Josh is pretty set at home.
However, like the rest of us, his work-life balance has been shifted in the midst of all of the pandemic’s chaos. Gathering with friends is a seldom occasion, and many of the things he looks forward to every summer, like the 2020 Beep Ball season, are canceled indefinitely.
Throughout this interview, I got to experience just a few of the ways this global pandemic has affected me and Josh similarly, yet so differently. Being a sighted person, I was unaware of the ripple effects all of our adaptations had on people who had been using these tools as a form of natural necessity before I was aware I needed them.
As we approach Wave 2 of the pandemic, I hope that the understanding of other people’s needs is expanded to ensure that we share our resources and offer what we can.
As for Josh, his mellow and easygoing nature is keeping him grounded.
“I’m sure this will happen again, but I’ll be better prepared next time.”