In Their Own Words

Disability and the pandemic

I was on exchange in England when the rumblings of the pandemic first began. Like everyone else, my life changed unbelievably in the span of one week.

I had struggled for three months to find my footing in a foreign country and was just barely finding my stride when it was all ripped out from under me.

I flew out mere hours before London went into its first lockdown. I didn’t think I would make it. On the plane home, I sat alongside other students in nearly the same predicament as me.

The flight home was eerie. No one coughed throughout the eight hours we were in the air, desperate to appear healthy to our fellow passengers. My seat buddies and I shared hand sanitizer, which was being price-gouged at the time.

When I finally got home, I decided not to complete any more schoolwork so I could prioritize tending to my mental health. I failed the semester and had to take an extra year of university as a result, but those few months were the calmest I’ve ever felt.

Come September, I returned to my home university through online classes. It was immediately evident that this was finally a method of teaching that could accommodate my disabilities that had long gone unaddressed in academics. Given the challenges that naturally arose trying to complete a music degree through a platform that couldn’t handle synchronous music making, this was the first time that I felt like I was on a level playing field with my peers.

It stung that it took the world stopping in its tracks to finally be accommodated, but I was grateful for what was now the new norm. I had hope, as many did in the first year of the pandemic, that organizations would see these methods of online dissemination and use them for future disability accommodation.

Looking back, perhaps this was naive. My school decided to return to in-person classes halfway through the winter semester of 2022. I reached out to my accessibility advisor as soon as this was announced, aiming to continue classes online. She said that that would not be possible, and after some gentle but persistent pressing she finally admitted, “the school makes money from students being on campus.”

I felt abandoned by the accessibility centre that claimed to be my advocate. Frustrated, I reached out to each of my professors individually and came up with a plan to either have the in-person lectures recorded and posted online or be streamed over Zoom in real time.

I tried a couple times to attend classes in person but found it near-impossible to go more than once a week without gambling my physical health and quality of life.

I graduated in May of 2022, exhausted by unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and fully disillusioned by academic institutions. I remain grateful, however, to the individual professors who had done their best to make right what the university itself would not.

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Cam Kochut


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