A long time ago I struggled for several years with Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) in my hands. I eventually figured out how to get better and keep further injury at bay, and the experience taught me a lot.
I’m hearing an echo of those times in today’s pandemic. When I was hurt it felt like I was on the moon—everything changed quite suddenly. And it was difficult for people who didn’t know what it’s like to have hands that hurt for several years to understand how it changes your behavior, and even what you think you want to do. I wrote a long article about the experience at the time: Greetings from planet RSI.
With the pandemic I feel like in some ways I’m back on the moon, but this time we’re all in the same place. It’s a crowded moonscape. Most folks understand. In some ways this is comforting. It’s also horrifying, realizing that so many people are hurting, and that the hurt ranges beyond inconvenience, disappointment, sorrow and fear to being overwhelmed, serious illness, and even death.
When I was in the weeds of RSIs, I found several ways of describing how ridiculously easy it was to make my hands hurt – I couldn’t turn off a faucet slowly enough to not get a jolt of pain when the handle stopped. When I think of that now I can’t picture it – it seems like if you went slowly enough, you could stop the handle without pain. My gut feeling has gone back to where it was before I was hurt. But I know intellectually that it’s true, because I remember.
I’m hoping that a silver lining to this pandemic is that we capture the memory of how difficult and frustrating it has been—inconvenient, disappointing, isolating, sad, fear-inducing, and increasingly frustrating over time—so when we get back to feeling like we’re in control again we can at least be sympathetic to folks who might still be on the moon.
And if we pay more attention to folks who have constraints, we might learn a lot. If you don’t understand this picture, understand that it hits home for me, and for a lot of other folks who know what it’s like to use assistive software.