Huntsville resident Cindy Payne has tried to make the most of an isolating year.
“I try and stay positive,” she smiled.
Cindy, who lives independently with some support from Community Living Huntsville, said the COVID-19 public health crisis had made life a bit awkward for her since, as an avid volunteer with community events like Band on the Run and Community Living Huntsville’s Inclusion Tours, and as an in-person facilitator for initiatives like Advocates Against Abuse, she had to adapt to a world of postponed activities, physical distance and provincial stay-at-home orders.
And she had persevered.
Cindy said she was able to secure a job in the bakery at Independent Grocer in October, which helped not only as a source of income, but also as a means to share her talents.
“It’s busy,” she laughed.
She was also able to spend time with family, who lives nearby.
Now she looks forward to a future where “we can just lick this problem” and the pandemic ends, so Huntsville can return to its lively self, and she and others can actively reconnect with their community.
But everyone has to be in it together.
“We would help each other,” she said.
‘STILL IN THIS TOGETHER’
Community Living Huntsville and others across Ontario celebrate May as Community Living Month, an annual awareness campaign that recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of the community living movement in supporting and advocating for people with developmental disabilities to live the lives they choose in their communities.
The 2021 theme, “Still in This Together”, honours the perseverance and resilience shown by those in the movement, as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christopher Jordan-Stevens, supervisor of Supported Independent Living for Community Living Huntsville, said the pandemic had affected people in different ways.
He noted, for example, there are people supported by Community Living Huntsville, who, after a lot of hard work by them and their support teams, had built routines, created personal connections, and actively participated in their community.
“And that has taken a lot of work on their part, given that they are part of a marginalized group with a certain set of labels attached to them (by society),” said Christopher.
But the pandemic had upended routines, and caused a reversion to isolation for many, which harmed mental as well as physical health.
“That has been very, very difficult for a lot of people,” he said. “The activity of life and the feeling of being involved in the community has really gone down.”
And then there were those who had not yet realized inclusion, even before the pandemic.
“I’m referring to a lot of young men and women, who experience homelessness, who experience addiction, who are in and out of incarceration, and they have never been involved or included in the community,” said Christopher.
The pandemic, he argued, had little meaningful effect on their lives because they were already living day-to-day in a constant state of emergency.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE
But the COVID-19 crisis had created an opportunity for socio-economic change.
“Because now everyone sees the cracks in the system,” he said. “Something invisible has been made visible by the pandemic. And we don’t want it to fade back into invisibility. We need to keep it at the forefront.”
And why does everyone need to be “still in this together”? Because people labelled with a disability are the best advocates, said Christopher, especially when others’ privilege can create blinders to the real problems and best solutions.
“The most important voices to be involved in addressing these issues are the very voices this pandemic is affecting most acutely,” he said. “Things need to change and the people who know how best to change them, and in the best spirit, are those whose voices are sometimes lost.”
Join the conversation with Community Living Ontario’s 2021 Policy Forum.
Community Living Huntsville is a not-for-profit organization and registered charity that supports children and adults with a developmental disability in North Muskoka to live the lives they choose in their community. Learn more at clhuntsville.ca.