Accessibility for all
As a mental health professional living with chronic conditions, I am grateful to be able to register for the @dcopuk conference and the 3rd European conference for #existential therapy this year. This is largely due to the fact that these conferences are taking place virtually.
Although I have missed engaging with colleagues and clients face to face this past year, being able to work from home and participate in CPD activities online has been eye opening. At previous events I had to contend with migraine attacks, brain fog, feeling faint, freezing and/or sweating, numb bum, and fatigue/exhaustion both physical and mental. This often meant that after 2 days of training, I would spend the following 2-4 days recovering (mostly in bed) feeling as though I had run a marathon.
Up until last year I just assumed this would always be my reality. That I would always have to contend with these 'issues' while participating in training events, and that meant having to be very selective of which events I would attend. In fact, committing to attend an event brought about a fair amount of anxiety as it involved spending a lot of time planning… Planning my journey to and from the venue, making a list of what I needed to bring in order to mitigate my symptoms, deciding whether to register for the entire conference or miss part of it to manage my wellbeing, and whether to book accommodation in order to have a quiet place to rest if I needed to get away for a bit. This was mostly about practicality, but also often had financial implications.
However, being able to attend virtual events has allowed me to manage my health better. At home I can:
regulate my body temperature by always having warm clothing or ice packs on hand.
reduce migraine triggers by controlling light intensity and noises, e.g. closing blinds, turning the volume up or down, stepping away/out of the room if needed.
take breaks when needed, as opposed to on a schedule, which is particularly beneficial when it comes to managing a medication schedule and having access to food/drinks, or the bathroom.
access all my medication, including the ones that I don’t necessarily have to take regularly but am glad to have on hand (I’m thinking of you paracetamol and ibuprofen)
And lastly, but definitely not least, I don’t have to travel anywhere! I can sit in my comfortable office chair all day with additional cushions/pillows if needed, and when the event is over, simply log off and be within 5 minutes of my sofa. After previous experiences of spending a full day participating in talks/workshops/presentations to then endure a 2-hour train journey with a pounding headache and aching body, I have to say, this new way feels pretty amazing.
Of course, I do miss the networking that takes place between sessions, and the buzz of being in a room full of like-minded professionals. But I have to be honest, I was barely able to enjoy those aspects much anyway, because I’d often have to duct to the bathroom or find a quiet place to sit in order to recover some energy for the rest of the day.
Now I'm not advocating that every conference and event be held virtually from now on as I wouldn't want to stop attending events in person completely. But hopefully organisations continue with some virtual offerings to ensure more #accessibility for all.
In fact, I would love to start a conversation around this as I am sure I’m not the only #counsellor #psychotherapist #psychologist with accessibility issues, though it seems like this is a topic rarely spoken about. So, if you have any resources on the topic or are willing to share your own experience, I would love to hear from you.