Joey from Coventry Youth Activists (CYA) is beaming. He’s shared his experience of being a young person under lockdown on a national platform. His individual voice is being heard and he has the opportunity to make change for himself and others.
His interview for The Guardian newspaper on 9 May, gathered the perspectives of several teenagers and young people around the UK and will help shine a light on the social isolation of one of the most vulnerable age groups – those destined to be known as the ‘Corona Class of 2020’.
But as Joey points out, connecting with friends, having space to discover your identity away from your parents, taking risks and progressing naturally through the same chapters of life as other people your age, are all miles away ALL the time when you also have a disability.
“For some of us, this is just our ordinary,” he observes.
Reporter Elle Hunt spoke to Joey, who works as an NHS sterile services technician, through Coventry Youth Activists (CYA) – Grapevine’s campaigns group for young people of different abilities*.
Five years on from his diagnosis of hereditary spastic paraplegia – and approaching three years since CYA formed – Joey uses a wheelchair and continues to work, despite his hours with a support worker being cut due to the pandemic.
Meeting up with his fellow activists to plan new strategies to raise awareness of young disabled people’s experiences also keeps him feeling strong, especially as he admits having to “fight hard to get through each day.”
As the other young people featured in the Guardian piece reflect on a shared loss of freedom, scrapped plans, disconnected social circles, missed milestones and an uncertain future, Joey reveals these stresses are part of day-to-day existence for a young person with a disability. He’s asking us all to consider what it’s like to try to navigate those circumstances in ‘normal life’.
Psychologists are already examining the potential impact of these challenges and conflicts on young people’s mental health and their levels of depression and anxiety. But they are also highlighting the unprecedented opportunities for growth and development. Opportunities to build new relationships and strengthen community resources propagated by the virus.
*CYA is funded by the Act for Change Fund (a partnership between Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation), the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s #iwill Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund.