The term the "new normal" is almost getting old. It's used to describe how things are now different to the way things were very recently - just two short months ago.

Yes, back in early autumn before Covid-19 had fallen on us like spiky autumnal leaves, things were ticking along as normal, predictably- groundhog styles- the same week after week.

Then the Covid the Barbarian of all viruses broke out and Aotearoa became very, very alert!

Going hard and early, we went rapidly from puttering about at level 1 to full throttle level 4, entering lockdown city in just a few days.


As we start stepping out into winter, things are the same BUT different. There are workers still working from home, fully acquainted with the intimacies of Zoom video conferencing. Suddenly we are not just able to work remotely but we are apparently enjoying and embracing it.

People who viewed online shopping as somewhat foreign and weird are now happily buying products online ranging from beds to infused gin, to bags of ready-to-cook food with step-by-step recipes.

Jonny Wilkinson: Time to take a break and look out for others
Jonny Wilkinson: Adjusting to the new normal
Jonny Wilkinson: Disabled people and getting work, never-ending issue
Jonny Wilkinson: Govt's 'go hard and go early' Covid 19 strategy works

The trouble is that we don't really know what the "new normal" will be.

For weeks we have snuffled around in a state of high existential uncertainty, which has given us all some degree of stress, whether consciously or sub-consciously.

As infection rates drip down into a flat line of no new cases and Jacinda alludes to a move to level 1 soon, we hear mixed messages about the future.

On one hand we hear daily forecasts of high unemployment, lack of business confidence and an avalanche of house prices. From a more positive perspective there is talk about new efficient business practices, increased productivity from employees working from home, lower business overheads, strong domestic support for local businesses, reductions in commuting grinds, high demand in the housing market and even greenhouse gas emissions have seen a downturn, therefore an upturn.

For people with disabilities the future is equally unclear. Will the "new norm" open up employment opportunities?

We have seen workplaces take their entire infrastructure online in a matter of days, when previously such an undertaking might have seemed impossible. The adaptation of flexible workplace arrangements makes employment so much more accessible for disabled people and those facing conventional barriers.

As for a lot of people, working from home enables disabled employees to avoid additional unnecessary stresses - such as navigating barrier-infested environments - and allows them to focus on the job at hand.


Or will the forecasted increase in unemployment rates make it even harder to get work? Will the increased awareness of the needs of disabled people during lockdown create a more inclusive society as we rebuild the economy, or will it be survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle?

Historically, "normal" is not a word that is associated with disability. Time will tell if the new normal encompasses everyone.

•Jonny Wilkinson is the CEO of Tiaho Trust - Disability A Matter of Perception, a Whangarei based disability advocacy organisation.