Toward Universal Access: a lasting benefit of virtual work

I have been building my practice as a body and brain teacher for a couple years, with a combination of in-person and remote sessions. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of my clients are remote, of necessity. 

I met with one of my long-term clients by video for the first time a couple weeks ago. For the past eighteen months, I’ve been making house calls to work with Nikita. He uses a wheelchair and has mobility limitations due to cerebral palsy. Here’s what he said during our first virtual session, “Now, everyone is living like me. Previously, I was told that many things were impossible. Now, everything is possible.” He is a graduate student. He went on to tell me how elderly faculty are learning how to put their courses online, and everyone is figuring out how to meet remotely via video. Most institutions have shut down physical locations, and are finding ways to keep open virtually.

Nikita has quad cerebral palsy which affects all four limbs, he uses two quad canes to walk short distances within his apartment, otherwise using a wheelchair for longer distances. He had gotten a variety of balls to work with himself and asked for a lesson on how to use them, something he’d already asked for before we were unable to meet in person. He chose a soft but spiky ball as the most helpful to him, and he began by showing me how he squeezed it and passed it from hand to hand.

We worked on coordinating breathing with passing the ball from hand to hand, 3- and 4-part breathing sequences. Then, we rolled the ball along the inside of one forearm, and around one wrist using the other hand, one way then the other way, with one hand then the other. He has more spasticity in his right hand, so we started with the ball in his left hand. It was a private lesson with this ball as a prop. He noticed a softening in his breathing, and the muscle tone in his arms. I shared the audio recording with him so he can use it to practice on his own. I asked him to walk with his canes as he does at the end of most of our lessons and his grip was softer, his ease greater.

This is what I wish for every lesson I offer, whether it is in person or remote, with an individual or a group, I wish for small changes that feel significant to the person experiencing the change. And, in this time of great global uncertainty, I offer this story as I think it represents hope for our future. If we can learn to live together, and work together in ways that lead to truly universal access to services and options that have long been denied to those living with mobility limitations, we will have made the world better. 

At our next session, after reviewing a draft of this blog post, Nikita reminded me that while opening up access is important, having everyone experience temporary physical isolation is perhaps even more significant in its potential for cultivating empathy in the world for the kind of isolation that many disabled people experience not just for weeks or months but for years and decades. I will take up this topic of isolation and its connection to mental health in another post.