Please spend time with the disabled

Many of you are approaching your eleventh month of social isolation this January. Being isolated for months is not easy. People may feel alone and lack motivation. Some get depressed. Now turn these 11 months into several years. That’s my life.

I was choking from my umbilical cord when my mother gave birth to me in 1976. This brief moment without oxygen changed the rest of my life. I was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy as a toddler in the late-1970s.

I am now 44 years old. I sometimes compare the condition to being a prisoner in my own body. I cannot walk autonomously, so I use an electric wheelchair. My physical movements are heavily constrained, so I need assistance to get out of bed, shower, go to the bathroom, get dressed and eat.

Since graduating from Concordia University seven years ago, I’ve had an extremely limited social life. I live alone and rarely see anyone other than my mother, one friend and aides that assist me daily in my adapted living apartment. I’m unemployed and single.

I want to work but I have experienced rejection as a result of my disability and the accessibility requirements associated to my disability. Equipment like lifts and electronics and the need for aides are seen as cost-prohibitive by companies. There are many people like me who want to work, but who can’t for reasons like mine.

The main message I want to stress is this: please spend time with people with disabilities. I was already extremely alone prior to the pandemic. Very few people visit me or hang out. My lifeline is social media, radio and television. Local radio hosts mean the world to me – some of whom I now consider friends.

I’m sad to say, but people are too occupied with their own lives and don’t take time for people like me. Some people work too much and don’t take time for others.

Ableism is a huge factor for me. Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities and I experience it on a daily and systematic basis. People judge me and my disability and avoid me because of their bias.

People make excuses not to hang out. They say they are busy, but then I see them on Facebook or Instagram out with friends having fun. That really, really hurts.

A brief hangout – a walk, having a beer, a video or phone chat – makes all the difference in the world, but hardly anyone does this. I only have one friend who visits me regularly. I also have one friend in New York City who visits me more often than most people I know who live five minutes away, unfortunately not during these crazy times. My mom visits on a weekly basis. I’m otherwise alone – day in, day out.

The psychological impacts of isolation are significant: it’s not easy to manage and I often get depressed. I don’t want or need medication. I just want to see people. I want friendship and have meaningful social contact.

I am so much more than my disability. I am a huge fan of wrestling, pop culture, video games, sports and TV. I’m a huge fan of Madonna and Taylor Swift. I have a degree in sociology and a college degree in broadcasting. I’ve lived through Carter, Regan, Clinton, two Bushes, Obama and fortunately just one-term-Trump!

Many of you now have a small taste of what it is like to be alone or somewhat isolated. We will all be alone and isolated at some point in our lives. Many will live our dying days alone.

We need to foster a culture of being there for one another, regardless of our physical or mental abilities or age. We need to support one another. Nobody should feel this alone.

Patrick Lefebvre

This piece was written with the assistance of Patrick’s friend, Matthew Brett.