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By: THOMAS ILAND

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world as we know it upside-down.  Our lives and livelihoods are not and probably never will be the same.  For individuals with disabilities, a change of this magnitude has a significant impact on personal as well as professional development.  From how we receive education to how we obtain and retain employment, society is beginning to not only feel a great sense of unpredictability and anxiety, but is also having to adapt to new circumstances and adopt more of a virtual setting than a physical, in-person setting.

As a person with autism, I want to first and foremost seize this opportunity to give you a lesson in empathy and self-reflection.  All that uncertainty, isolation and other depressing emotions you might be feeling or going through right now…THIS is how it feels to have autism or another disability on a given day!  If you think THREE MONTHS of not interacting with people, embracing someone in a hug or shaking hands with someone is difficult…IMAGINE feeling that way for THREE DECADES!!!  So many individuals with disabilities have lived most, if not all, of their lives feeling this way and now the world is getting a taste of how it feels to be in our shoes (not literally, of course!).  In a way, I feel that I’ve prepared my entire 36-year life for this moment!

Since I’m unable to speak in front of large crowds at public events/places, and in order to continue to create value for my clients and followers, I’ve taken to the Internet and social media to share my thoughts, viewpoints and experiences on how I’m getting through this pandemic and how I intend to make the world a better place.  Here are some of the new routines I’ve formed to help myself and others have hope for a better future:

  • Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10am, 1pm and 4pm, respectively, I go on Facebook Live and pose a question or topic of discussion, tell stories, share experiences and respond to users’ comments and questions.
  • Every Tuesday, I order food for take-out from a local restaurant and use social media along with the hashtags #TakeOutTuesday and #SupportSmallBusiness to show people what small business eateries in Santa Clarita have to offer. 
  • I’m using Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams to be part of virtual discussions, put on Webinars and deliver online presentations related to individuals with disabilities and employment, safe interactions with law enforcement officers, and personal and professional development.

When it comes to employment of individuals with disabilities, work-from-home and other telecommuting options are often favorable for these individuals that may have difficulty traveling or being in unfamiliar environments outside of the home.  The skillsets that these individuals possess make them optimal employees for local organizations.  Rather than have these individuals sit at home playing on a computer all day…how about having these individuals use the computer to foster creativity, improve workplace morale, and contribute to the betterment of YOUR organization…and society as a whole?  We have an opportunity to put a HUGE dent in the unemployment of individuals and make a HUGE difference in their quality of life.  The effects of this change will be everlasting and will continue WHEN this pandemic ends.

These trials and tribulations that we are experiencing right now have the potential to make us triumph!  This pandemic has been difficult at best for many people, but when we can come up with new ways to help each other out and continue the discussions that need to be had to heal our world…and not just from a health or medical perspective…that is how we can come to life during a pandemic!  I intend to make the most of these circumstances and I encourage you to do the same as well!  We are not out of the woods yet…but I’m certain that we are in this together…and I’m hopeful that we will become our best selves and emerge stronger and wiser from all of this. 

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Thomas Iland is a member of the SCV Mayor’s Committee for Employment of Individuals with Disabilities. He is an Autism Self-Advocate, Toastmasters International Accredited Speaker,  Certified Human Potential Coach & Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and Author of Come To Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery.

We invite you to keep current with us at the SCV Mayor’s Committee Facebook page.