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A Welcome Surprise In The Coronavirus Age


Like many of us these days, James Ainsworth, who's a journalist, copywriter and web designer, feels vulnerable.

JAMES AINSWORTH: The pandemic makes me nervous.

SIMON: Because at 60 years of age, he's in a high-risk group because his health is compromised from a violent crime 18 years ago.

AINSWORTH: I was shot in a carjacking incident in front of my apartment building, and a bullet went in my chest and went out my back, hit the edge of my spine.

SIMON: It paralyzed him from the waist down. Today, James Ainsworth uses a wheelchair to live what he calls a pretty independent life in Denver. He skis. He's tried adaptive gliding. He does have chronic pain. And when his state went into lockdown, the center where he gets therapy closed down. But the pandemic has created a welcome surprise. With do many people now at home, there are more group activities online. So it's easier for James Ainsworth to join in.

AINSWORTH: I am participating more on conferences, courses, classes, meetings, things like that. Since having my injury, I don't go to church as often as I used to. The things that you have to do in terms of using the bathroom and getting dressed in the morning - they take a couple of hours. It can take quite a bit of time. That has made it not as easy to go to church.

But since the whole COVID pandemic, with the advent of streaming, I've been going to church every day regularly, and it's been wonderful. It's been a wonderful blessing. I'm part of a yoga and meditation group, and the building is not accessible. So I would only go to the building maybe once a year. And I would never go on their regular retreats.

But I was able to participate this time because they scheduled it and organized it online, and they did it through live streaming and Zoom conferencing. So I was able to participate in the workshops and seminars. And I was able to participate in the singing and dancing. I can dance in my chair. I can move around in my chair. I was able to meet new people and feel like I was a part of the group in a way that I hadn't been. It's profoundly easy for people with spinal cord injuries to slip into a state of depression. There is pain. There is also barriers out there in the society for you to participate in doing many normal things. Feeling isolated and alone is almost a kind of a default status.

I believe the effect of this pandemic can be an opportunity, and I think this is something that's very much needed. You know, even in the group that I was participating in, I never thought to advocate for having an online retreat option available for people who can't make the retreat. It is my hope that this will be a shift that will continue to grow and evolve and expand, and we should advocate for that.

By the same token, I would hope that people who are not disabled will also think of ways that they can use this shift as digital technology to include communities that have been not included before or not thought of in various kinds of activities, you know, especially the disabled community.

SIMON: That's James Ainsworth of Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.