Hollis Jacob was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (genetic disorder in which a person cannot control the movement of their muscles due to a loss of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain stem) at the age of three.
The 45-year-old has spent most of his life confined to a wheelchair.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has left him feeling a range of emotions from fear, empowerment and even gratitude.
But what stood out to him the most is that he believes the pandemic has left people with a greater understanding of how illness affects people’s lives.
Chief among them for him are the restrictions.
“As a differently-abled person, there are a lot of places I can’t go and things I can’t do because a lot of places do not have wheelchair ramps or elevators. So I spend a lot of time at home. Now that a number of places have to be closed and everyone has to stay home it levels the playing field.”
Jacob said everyday things like going to the mall, that a physically abled person may take for granted, is often not even an option for him.
Jacob who moves around on a motorized wheelchair is well known in his Plymouth community as he can often be seen whizzing by, greeting neighbours and children on his route. He said he has since had to reconsider his already limited runs.
“As much as I observe safety protocols and wear my mask I could recall one occasion where I was just out getting some fresh air and my chair rolled over a rock and it affected that headrest. I can’t adjust it myself but strangers nearby saw me in distress and they helped.”
He said because of the prevalence of COVID people may be understandably hesitant to assist.
And while Jacob is not heavily dependent on the healthcare system for medical services, he noted there are other differently-abled people whose lives have drastically changed in one way or another.
But the pandemic has also brought some benefits as Jacob who is highly referenced as being knowledgeable about several areas of information technology has also started a virtual helpdesk for students and persons who need IT assistance.
He has also been able to access other services because the world is now online.
“For years I’ve been wanting to do some IT courses but I couldn’t because they were inaccessible but now almost everything is online and others are being developed for online platforms so I can upgrade my skills and training.”
Jacob said through it all he has learnt that life is uncertain as “in the blink of an eye things can change.”
He said he is happy that he was able to find some good and help others in the crisis. He said he believes that if everyone works together with time the new normal will work.