Back to Normal, Back to Inaccessible

Kirsten Imani Kasai, 50, a novelist in San Diego and self-described introvert, describes how she found comfort and safety in the relative quietude of the past year — and fears the return of a noisier, more-demanding world. Emily Ladau, 29, a disability rights activist in Long Island, N.Y., says she worries that the shift back to in-person interactions will force her, once again, to navigate environments that weren’t designed for the physically disabled.

Source: Opinion | Reopening Anxiety? You’re Not Alone. – The New York Times

I’m an autistic, hyper-sensory wheelchair user. Loud noises and light touch can induce agonizing cramps strong enough to tear muscle, dislocate joints, and break bones. I prefer to stay at home where I am not overwhelmed by the logistics and stimulus of an inaccessible world.

During COVID lockdown, my favorite restaurants started curb side service. My doctors offered telemedicine. The various educators and healthcare workers who help us home school our neurodivergent kids offered Zoom sessions and noticed how well they responded to learning from the safety and accessibility of home.

More places became compatible with written communicators and the phone averse. I even made some progress with getting healthcare, education, and local businesses to respect communication preferences and improve digital accessibility.

And now, much of that is falling away.

We’ve been warning that the accommodations that suddenly became possible during a pandemic would go away and we’d be back to forced intimacy and the accommodations grind.

Source: Structural Ableism Doesn’t Stop at the Firewall – Ryan Boren

So thoroughly discouraging.

In the video, you will hear from some of these quieter voices. They explain that as much as they want the pandemic to end, it has also provided them with some relief from challenges, inequities and injuries that were all too common in their prepandemic lives.

Source: Opinion | Reopening Anxiety? You’re Not Alone. – The New York Times

I too felt that relief. As Kirsten Imani Kasai puts it in the video:

I felt safer. I felt safer.

Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.” Likewise physically disabled people. Lockdown bettered accessibility and neurological pluralism, and thus safety, in myriad ways that are now disappearing.

“Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.”

Hyper-plasticity predisposes us to have strong associative reactions to trauma. Our threat-response learning system is turned to high alert. The flip side of this hyper-plasticity is that we also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.

The stereotypes of meltdowns and self-harm in autism come from the fact that we frequently have stress responses to things that others do not perceive as distressing. Because our unique safety needs are not widely understood, growing up with extensive trauma has become our default.

Because of our different bio-social responses to stimulus, autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.

Source: Discovering a Trauma-Informed Positive Autistic Identity | by Trauma Geek | Medium

“Autistic people have significant barriers to accessing safety.”

“We also adapt quickly to environments that are truly safe for our nervous system.”

That really resonates and calls to mind this passage of mine from “Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism”:

Since reading NeuroTribes, I think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space and opportunity to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”

Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology.

In other words, make space for Cavendish. Make spaces for both collaboration and deep work.

Source: Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism

There isn’t much psychological or sensory safety to be found in schools or workplaces. I spent a lifetime trying and ended up helping start a fully distributed company built on written communication so I could work from home in a sensory space and communication culture curated to my needs.

Create Cavendish space in our schools and workplaces. Create safety accessible to autistic people. Neurological pluralism makes for good, universal design.

Previously,