I am a 40year old blind person, working as a Senior IT Architect in the Central Bank of Ireland. It is a busy and challenging career, but somewhere amongst all of my commitments to the Central Bank, I find time to serve as a Director on the Group Board of the NCBI. Things are going pretty well for me, and I rarely have cause to stop and reflect on the fact that I am blind; like many people, I have adapted to life and work, and it all just feels normal – until recently, that is!
As is the case for people all over the world, the past month has been eventful and changeable for me. This is a brief insight into what I have been up to, and how I have been adapting to the ‘new normal’.
My partner and I are busy people, so we make sure that we take time out periodically to enjoy our holidays. I consider these as ‘reboot’ sessions, where I can get away from the somewhat chaotic nature of my life and have time to think about nothing. We were scheduled to visit our favourite winter sun destination Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria in early March. Naturally, we were concerned about what was the developing nature of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis at the time. However, following consultation with experts in the area, we decided to take our holiday. In early March when we were scheduled to leave, there were no restrictions and airports were open; COVID-19 still felt like it was a bit away.
Everything about our break in Gran Canaria was as we have come to expect and love. Beautiful sunshine, lots of relaxation, delicious food and ice-cold beers. We were keeping an eye on the news from home, growing more and more concerned each day. There were no cases at all reported on Gran Canaria at the time though, so we felt relatively safe – in fact, we joked that we could be more safe on the island as opposed to being back in Dublin.
On the last day of our holiday, which was 14 March, we spoke to some people from the UK. Their flight had been cancelled, which really set off alarm bells for us. My phone never left my hand as we travelled to the airport, and up until about 3 PM, everything seemed fine. On arrival at the airport though, it was clear there was a problem. We were informed that our flight was cancelled, and that we would be taken to a hotel. I am not afraid to admit it; I panicked. There was absolutely no information available to us in terms of a rescheduled flight. As is the Irish way though, we met up with a group of fellow would-be air passengers in the airport who too were wondering how they would manage to get back to Ireland given the cancelations.
After a couple of hours, a bus showed up and we were herded on to it, all of us only knowing that we were headed for a hotel for an indefinite amount of time. One of the handling agents in the airport quipped with us when we were asking for an update that it could be a day, it could be two days, or it could be a month – unhelpful I thought! Anyway, I began to feel a little better, knowing that we were amongst our fellow Irish, and that everyone was in the same situation regarding a lack of information. The bus dropped us off at what proved to be a very fine hotel in Las Palmas.
Everyone checked in, and two other couples and ourselves – who were complete strangers – decided it would be a good idea to get together, go out, find some food, and have a few calming drinks! This we did, and the world really did feel a lot less frightening after some nice steaks and a couple glasses of wine.
Our little group of strangers agreed to keep close throughout our extended stay on Gran Canaria, and to exchange any information we could gather in terms of a flight home. There was complete radio silence for twenty-four hours from Aer Lingus though, so all we could rely on was speculation and rumours coming out about airport closures, full lockdowns, and a notion that we may have to stay on Gran Canaria indefinitely. Not good!
The following evening, I received an email to tell me that we were going to be brought home on a ‘rescue flight’ at around 6:20 PM the next day. The sense of relief I had was indescribable! What could we do? We met up with our new stranded friends and went straight to the hotel bar for a celebratory drink. In our defence, there was little else to do in the admittedly plush surroundings of a hotel in the middle of a fully locked down city (the police were on the streets with loud hailers telling everyone to get back inside). Anyway, as the word of the ‘rescue flight’ spread, people suddenly began to find their cheer, knowing there was finally a resolution to our issue, and we were all getting home the following day.
On Monday 16 March, we arrived back into a very different Ireland compared to the one we left nine days previously. The following day was the standard post-holiday domestic whirlwind of unpacking and laundry. Next day, the Wednesday, marked the beginning of our – what is now – ‘new normal’ way of working.
As mentioned, I work for the Central Bank in IT Architecture. While I was off soaking up winter sunshine, the Bank had been very proactive in terms of setting staff up to work from home on an extended basis. I have the option of working from home when necessary for a day or so here and there, but obviously the COVID-19 emergency dictated this would be an ongoing situation – and it still is!
My job requires significant collaboration with both IT and Business stakeholders in the Central Bank. In addition, as an architect, it is necessary for me to derive designs and create architectural documentation for various – what tend to be – mission critical IT solutions, which enable the Central Bank to deliver on their mandate. Much like a lot of people who are now working from home on an ongoing basis, executing my role involves using my laptop to dial in to work via the Central Bank’s VPN, and carrying out all meetings via WebEx.
Luckily, technology did not prevent me in any way from adapting to this new way of working; in fact, it was a great enabler. My laptop is running screen-reading software, and accessing the VPN is seamless. I tend to dial in to WebEx meetings via the landline in my house, as I find it easier than using the software solution on my laptop to do so. I thought about getting rid of my landline for so many years, I am very glad that I never got round to it! Therefore, from a technology perspective, I am fully enabled thanks to the Central Bank’s superb infrastructure to facilitate working remotely, and my adaptive software.
Technology aside, like most I am sure, I dearly miss the social interaction and normality of the way I worked prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Being at home all the time is mentally challenging in so many ways, and I find it difficult to come to terms with the possibility this might go on for quite a bit longer. However, I try to stay positive and resilient through regular communication with my family, friends and work colleagues. Even though we are physically distant, I think it is important to foster a sense of togetherness as we all face down these new challenges and look to a future when normality can be restored.