James shares his personal experience of living with a disability and what should be prioritised to ensure public safety in the 'new normal.'
The crisis the world faces from COVID-19 is still hard to grasp. The daily updates seem unreal at times and it’s difficult to imagine the fear and suffering of those affected, as well as the impact on their families and friends.
With any crisis, there will the immediate need for tactical approaches in dealing with people’s immediate situation, to preserve life and to think about the next steps to be taken. There is also a need for strategic thinking because at some point, the immediate crisis recedes and we move to a recovery phase. With COVID-19, the recovery phase may take a long time and in fact, everyday life as we know it may never be the same again and many also have declared it should not be.
One notable thing about the effect of lockdown (aside from impact on case numbers) is how quiet the roads are. Anecdotally, the roads have been fairly empty of cars, and replaced by hordes of cyclists and runners. Given this, I have not spent much time thinking about driving. But in a recent Zoom call, I learned of the number of people living with dementia – a disability – in the call who were still driving. From my understanding, you can drive if you have dementia but you have to notify the DVLA who will look at your case, and your insurance company, who could disclaim liability if you do not disclose. These decisions have been into place to ensure road safety.
Looking ahead, I have been drawn to thinking about how this time spent indoors during lockdown and therefore off the roads will affect the driving confidence of many drivers and perhaps people with disabilities more so. I imagine reactions to traffic may be slower. In fact, I know this having already been out with my wife and been driven to the clinic. With traffic around me, ever increasing, as time goes on, I grow discombobulated and am glad, I am no longer driving.
But this is not just about driving confidence. This is about how our body and nervous system has responded to lockdown and will respond to recovery. I myself took a large TIA, and my walking and balance are badly affected, even after 11 weeks. I know that my first outing will be to the optician as my right eye is now blurred. I am sure I am not alone. Even athletes, who cannot exercise will be in similar positions.
As we head into the new normal, many may recover from poor mental health as a result of the lockdown. Some may experience muscle and tone loss and grapple with change in increased activity levels and surroundings. Some maybe more than others.
Although there is much uncertainty about the recovery phase ahead, I do know this. When I do venture back onto the roads as a pedestrian, I will have to take special care. Drivers should take someone with them in the car, until they feel able and safe driving alone. And I would encourage you to shoulder the same support system as we define and transition into a new normal and I hope the decision making in place will take all needs and lived experiences into account to ensure our safety and that of others, and gradual recovery.