Interview conducted by Katie Samson in November 2020
Becky Bradbeer is on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of Art-Reach. She is a strong supporter and advocate for the performing arts. Becky lives outside of Philadelphia and has a mobility disability that requires assistance from a Personal Care Attendant (PCA). Due to the pandemic, Becky had to make major adjustments to her lifestyle, especially her PCAs, theatre attendance, and service.
Katie Samson is the Director of Education for Art- Reach. She has previously worked in museum education and taught Disability Studies. Katie is a quadriplegic and is also hard of hearing with sensory sensitivities.
Can you tell me a little bit about how COVID has changed your life from your typical day before COVID to your typical day now?
So, these are very interesting questions that I've really tried to think about a little bit before doing this [interview]. You know, in my previous life, I guess, 'BC' is what we're all jokingly calling 'Before COVID', you know everyone was always commenting on my busy schedule and lifestyle. And it's been very interesting to think about that even more because I think just because you're disabled and you're busy, that's a big deal to the majority of society. And I wouldn't say that I wasn't busy. But, basically, I am home. Really not having the issues with it that people that I know thought I would. You know, there's an autonomic nervous system that figured out that when you're smart and there's a pandemic that is global, and we've never lived through a global pandemic before, that life is just going to automatically become hard. That was not a thing I needed to think about. It wasn't a thing I needed to talk myself into.
You know, this pandemic happened in March, so my life still was pretty quiet just coming off of the winter months which are naturally more, you know, solitary and quiet. So maybe I'm just pretending that the quietness of the winter months...but the most tangible piece about the experience is my technology. And without my technology, I literally don't know what I would be doing. I am 99% - that's an exaggeration, my aides come in there at some point - but my independence is so much more noticeable because I am completely independent back here in my office with my technology. My technology is my mouth mouse which is this, and my voice recognition software which is Dragon which I've been using for 25+ years. So, I have never been more grateful for this set up.
I'm really wanting to believe that I won't be in this room for the rest of my life.
For some of the people who have disabilities, there was a part of COVID where it was sort of like "yeah, this happens all the time." If there's a snowstorm, if there's a power outage, if my caregiver doesn't show up, if my car breaks down, I am stuck at home. So, some of us have, like tools in the toolbox, to deal with isolation. Did you find that, over time, the resources available to you around your home, like technology, or otherwise, expanded or sometime felt like they got even smaller?
No. They absolutely expanded my world. And you know, this needs to be made clear. I keep talking about the handoff of this time, meaning, you know, the desire to, you know, be with people that are not normally able to be with people but yet the need to be comfortable at home. You know, that doesn't feel paradox for me. I feel like I need to say, whether its convincing myself or convincing others who say that they don't need to be convinced, that I'm not going to become a hermit. But yet the idea of becoming a hermit is not as farfetched as I always meant it to be. Now, there's so many factors besides COVID that play into that, you know. My age — I'm not, you know, twenty anymore by any stretch of the imagination. But this experience is definitely life altering. But we also can't, you know, sort of negate that this might also just be illuminating what was already going to be happening through the life cycle. I mean, I'm really wanting to believe that I won't be in this room for the rest of my life. I am also extremely lucky to be able to live like I do. Because this is not normal.
It should be more... not the exception. But for me to be as physically dependent as I am with, you know, the needs I have, to be able to live the way I do and how I do is really something I don't take for granted. Right now, if one tiny thing fails, you know, usually there's an answer to all my crisis and your crisis...someone always comes to save my mind, my lower part. In a pandemic, those options are really not...they're extremely scary. They're not really options, but If one of my aides broke her leg today, I would need to do something drastic.
Art-Reach is an art service organization, based in Philadelphia, PA that creates, advocates for and expands accessible opportunities in arts and culture so the full spectrum of society is served. Art-Reach removes the financial barrier to arts engagement for the disability community and people with low-income through the ACCESS Philly, STAMP, and Membership program. Art-Reach partners with museums, theatres, gardens, historic homes, and other performing arts organizations to build audiences, enhance accessible services, and design inclusively. Art-Reach also provides training, resources and professional development opportunities to empower the arts and cultural sector and increase cultural accessibility throughout the United States.
This project was made possible with generous support from the Independence Public Media Foundation.
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