As we moved into the fifth week of our lockdown, we also opened up. Level 3 allowed a host of possibilities, both positive and negative. The Countdown workers seemingly no longer need their 10% bonus; we hear about more people being laid off. And then I got an email from a colleague saying that she had reduced her hours. I assumed the worst, and asked her whether this was voluntary. There was a resounding ‘YES’. She has taken the opportunity to integrate more surfing into her days, so she put up her hand for reduced hours.
As someone who has longed to be at the beach everyday during lockdown, I was suddenly re-acquainted with something that I have forgotten about over the weeks of level 4 lockdown. I have never once felt the FOMO, which is such a familiar companion of our days. We all know that our modern life has made us materially abundant, but it has also imposed a heavy emotional toll: it has alienated us, bred envy, increased shame, separated us from one another, bewildered us, forced us to grin inauthentically and left us restless and enraged. It provides all the angst that any occupational therapsit worth their salt sets themselves to address. Or in modern parlance, it has imposed FOMO – fear of missing out onto our private citadels.
For the first time in five weeks I felt that it was time to really take stock of what I have been achieving. How could these 12 hour days on my computer, perched at the edge of the kitchen table, have achieved anything as worthwhile as going surfing at dawn. Have I missed out something crucial? Or am I more content and comfortable with what is happening than I have ever been. It seems that Level 3 brings familiar and uncomfortable ghosts. There is no easy escape.
So I am reviewing this identity (yet again). Who am I? Simon Sinek in his incredible Ted Talk (49Million + view), reminds us that the golden circle is made up of Why (at the centre), then How and finally at the outer circle is the What. And the answer to those questions is all about biology. The How and the Why are dealt with by the limbic brain, which is responisble for feelings like trust and loyalty and for all human behaviour and decision-making. However, the limbic brain does not have the capacity for language. Rather, it makes the decisions and leaves it to the neocortex to rationalise the decision. The neocortex is the newest area of the brain and it is responsible for all of our rational and analytical through and language. So the answer to the question ‘who am I? can be addressed by the following equation: Who = Why + How + What.
The least important thing is the What. So how do I describe the How and the Why that has driven the development of a particular What (a radio show) over the last few weeks. It’s simple really. I am an educator, I believe in the possibility of transformation through education and I want students to have the opportunity to change the world. I want to bring my students to the exact point where their work can make a difference in the real market place that is this world. And then I want to unleash their creativity in such a way that they discover themselves to be the marvellous beings that they are. I don’t want my students wasting their time on doing practices, when the world is in such need of their energy and their imagination.
This Why as an educator also drives my therapist soul. I believe that people should always have the opportunity to learn and to live as fully as possible. It’s not about who is enrolled in a course and who is not. Life is all about education and it is through education that we find ways to make a rich life for ourselves and others. I believe therefore that young students can learn from older people – and I believe that the intersection of young and old creates a generative space for young and old.
I believe that my role in this is to create the environment and this moves me to the How. I have relationships with a community in Dunedin called the Visual Impairment Charitable Trust Aotearoa. In fact, I’m on the board and I commit myself to this group every day of my life – just as I commit myself to my students. I have watched this incredible group thrive in an environment where nobody is prepared to help. Month after month they come back to the local support group at Dunedin Public Library, on the third floor in the Dunningham Suite. And each month they exchange tips and tricks, and they also exchange friendship. Some of the members are in their 90s and most of them catch the bus to get to the meeting. They come because they get help and support from each other. However, they also come because they are helping students to learn about visual impairment and this is where our Whys start to come together. We believe in the same thing and this is why the relationship keeps on giving so richly to the Dunedin community.
Now in the time of Covid, this is the very group who much stay at home. They are caricatured as the ‘vulnerable’ elderly. But these are people who are living every day, rich lives that may consist of getting through the chores without much vision; or staying in touch with myriad nephews and nieces around the world, or writing or singing. We believe that they need to be more than simply the recipients of help. We believe that they can continue to be part of a vibrant community that includes people with low vision and the student community.
This is where the “How” comes in. Over the last three weeks we have come up with the idea of starting a radio show. But this is a “What” more than a “How”. How we intend to do it is by stitching in the voices of older adults who are situated across the whole spectrum described by the ‘digital divide’. Some of them are completely clued into meetings on Zoom and they stay in touch with WhatsApp, and they have magnifiers and every kind of helpful thing. But more often they are at home with a telephone. A landline. And there is no point in talking about internet and connectivity. They simply choose not to integrate this into their lives. We believe that they should be included, that noone should be left behind. So our “How” must include hybrid technology.
I have been thinking about hybrid technology because my young friend with autism has had a longrunning conversation about the change from analogue to digital, and whether we make a mistake by switching completely. What see seem to have learned is that we will continue to have analogue (radio, telephone, clocks, books), even as the digital world proliferates. Most people will congregate at the digital end. We believe that those who continue to live analogue lives should be part of the world that we inhabit. It will be a much thinner reality if they are not included.
So a couple of weeks ago I went on a major learning curve. I learned how to record a telephone conversation in myriad ways. I now know that I can record a conversation on my cell phone, just using the normal dialface; or I can put an app onto my phone that does the same thing (but asks for all kinds of crazy permissions in the process); I’ve learned how to record using Skype for Business (it’s just an awkward beginning point from settings). And now that I know it’s possible in these ways, I know that there will be other ways.
Then I learned all the different ways that recording is stored. There can be MP4, or MP3, or WAV or innumerable other formats. Only some of them can be edited on the free Audacity software that I downloaded. So I learned that I can convert them using free online converters (and that I can also download apps that allow me to convert them to the required format).
With this information on hand, I felt confident that we could respond to the invitation to appear on Sam Mann’s “Blowing Bubbles show”. This is an Otago Access Radio show that Sam has produced everyday of the Lockdown, talking to people all over the world about how they have responded. He will eventually use this material to write a book about “Tomorrow’s Heroes”. Notwithstanding the title (of course I’m nobody, never mind a hero), Lynley and I agreed to appear on the show and my job was to create 3-4 snippets that we could use in the show.
The first attempt was a bit of a disaster. I talked with Vera for over an hour and she was just so interesting that I didn’t want to stop. She is 94 and I got so much of her story about growing up in London and working as a parlour maid. And I learned so much about how she copes living alone and the achievement of walking a mile still on her own. It was more like an oral history interview and when I started to edit it, I realised that there was no easy five minute snippet to capture. Everything was one thread woven into another, like any good conversation. It took several hours before I admitted defeat (sorry Vera!)
In my next interviews with Karley Parker, Keith Alnatt and Jennifer Bradshaw I was much more disciplined. I had a good conversation, and then we decided together what the questions should be. Luckily there seemed to be a rough theme about how we were all coping during the Lockdown. Keith talked about how busy his street is now; Karley talked about finally feeling that she had a use for “Hurri-cane”, her white cane (now green) that so excellently measures out the 2metres that she needs to keep to manage physical distancing; and she also talked about finally learning braille, at the ripe old age of twenty-something; finally Jennifer gave a radical overview of the ageism implicit in the perception of older people as vulnerable during this Lockdown.
Editing was a breeze, and I basically just sent them to Sam to stitch into the show. They all Lynley and I had to do was to just show up on Zoom and have a chat about our ideas. Afterwards we had a debrief and we realised just what great material these conversations have for generating further chat among the group.
We have now got a slot for our show – which will start on May 12th at 1pm. The VICTA board is on board, now we just need to bring in the students to this space. I have already got a master’s student – the wonderful Jennifer Hooker, who already did her Honours project on this group about five years ago. We just need to get some fieldwork and/or internship students. I’m not fussy what discipline they come from, but I do hope that occupational therapy and communication design will get to work together on this. Here’s a little brief for the other lecturers.
In this project, I aim to provide opportunities for students to work at any level – from the first year to postgraduate. We developed it to ensure community projects for students that can be face to face, or online. We need this flexibility in the covid climate.
The idea is this:
We can’t run our support groups for VICTA – the Visual Impairment Charitable Trust Aotearoa. I am a board member of this support group for people with visual impairment which would normally meet once a month. We are unlikely to re-convene this year, since is the a ‘vulnerable’ population and so we have searched for a way that would keep the community alive and growing. Access Radio is people’s friend – “real radio for real people’. So, we did a practice radio show and learned that this format gets lots of investment from the members. We hope to start a regular show on May 12th.
We want to run week radio shows that exemplify a community-led development approach. Behind each show, there will be layers of research and development. For example, if we run a show on transport and mobility, there will be webpages about mobility and transport solutions. There will also be videos about the specific problems, for example, terrible pavements in this area of town or another. We can run debates about the issues that arise – through town and gown debates about issues like ageism in the covid climate.
Outcomes from the project from the student perspective:
Skill development in interviewing, recording and editing radio showLearn about low vision; Learn about design for low vision; Website development; Making videos; Use of hybrid technology to involve people who are not digitally connected; Project management ; High-quality sustainable outcomes; High-level communication
Outcomes from the project from the community perspective will include
building knowledge about visual impairment; developing community capacity for self-advocacy; reducing social isolation; unifying and growing the VICTA communitychallenging the paradigm of the ‘vulnerable older adult’; showcasing and developing skills of the low vision community; development of a lively website, with podcasts and videos. Development of a collaborative book project called the ‘Book of Vision’,
We still have to find a title….so there will be another update soon. However, maybe I have answered a little of the “Who Am I?” question that was so perturbing me when I was writing my Inaugural Professorial Lecture. It’s easy really. I am what I believe. My Who = Why + How + What. And these elements manifest in my life on a daily basis. I may not be going out surfing – but somehow FOMO doesn’t impinge when I remember who is in my bubble, and that we are content together. It is a productive time – one where I feel as engaged as ever, and so lucky to be able to continue to work in this education space that I believe in.
So here it is, our practice radio show
Simon Sinek, 2009, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Ted Talk,