The Pandemic: Kimberley’s Story:
About the Author:
Kimberley Spire-Oh is an attorney in private practice. Ms. Spire-Oh received a J.D. from Hofstra School of Law and a B.S. in Industrial & Labor Relations from Cornell University. Her practice focuses on special education law and advocacy and disability law representing clients throughout Florida. Ms. Spire-Oh also is a frequent speaker on special education issues for many local, state, and national conferences. Additionally, she is active in advocating for policy change in laws, regulations, and rules negatively impacting people with disabilities. Prior to starting her law practice, Ms. Spire-Oh was legal editor for LRP Publications’ reporters, bulletins and treatises involving disability law. She has also worked as a mediator, as a Congressional caseworker, as donor relations officer for the Harvard School of Public Health, and as a grant writer and consultant for numerous nonprofit organizations.
Ms. Spire-Oh currently serves as co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County’s Education Committee, secretary of the board of directors for Different Brains, Inc.; and as a member of the Florida State Advisory Committee for the Education of Exceptional Students, the Advisory Committee of the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities, the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking 2012 Class, the Florida Association of Special Education Attorneys, the Disability Rights Bar Association, the Florida Restorative Justice Association, as well as the Palm Beach County School District’s (PBCSD’s) Diversity and Equity Committee and Exceptional Student Education Advisory Committee. Previously, she served as co-chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee for LDA of America; co-president of the board of directors for the Learning Disabilities Association of Florida; and member of the PBCSD’s Restraint and Seclusion Committee, She received a 2011 Multicultural Leadership Award from the Florida Diversity Council. Ms. Spire-Oh has first-hand knowledge of disabilities as an individual with a seizure and autoimmune disorders and as mother of a twice-exceptional young adult.
Life Before The Pandemic & Reacting to it:
Q: Describe your everyday life before the pandemic hit. Include aspects of your life such as work, school, extracurricular activities you did, and other social aspects of your life.
A: I am a special education attorney. Before COVID-19, I split my workday between working from home, meeting with clients at my office, and attending meetings and hearings at schools and school district facilities. I am involved in a number of volunteer activities, many of which involves phone calls and video meetings before COVID-19. I also attended a creative writing class Wednesday nights outside of the home. I am married and have a dog, a cat, and two turtles. Before COVID-19, my husband and I ate out a lot, went to local cultural events, and traveled to Los Angeles and Chicago several times a year to see our kids. We also traveled to other places for vacation.
Q: Describe how you initially reacted to COVID-19 and the social distancing.
A: Early on, I had to take an emergency trip to Los Angeles because we feared my son had been infected with COVID-19. I was in LA when the quarantine started, staying in a hotel room but I clean constantly. I helped my son try to gather supplies when everything was hard to come by. When he refused to come home with me, I flew home, fearing that flights would be completely shut down and I would be stuck there in a hotel for a really long time. I flew in business class basically by myself. I feel fortunate that I have the means to do so.
Back home, I follow the quarantine. I basically stayed home the whole time we were expected to do so, other than walking my dog around the block and a couple trips out to get supplies. My husband, an engineer, was considered an essential worker, so he continued working the whole time. While that was helpful financially, it did put us at greater risk than families that could fully work from home.
Changes & Adaptations:
Q: In what ways did your life and schedule change as a result of the coronavirus?
A: I have been able to work the entire time. Instead of going to schools or my office for meetings, I’ve been able to do them by phone and computer. I reduced my caseload somewhat for other reasons. I completely stayed home when we were urged to do so. At the beginning of July, I traveled to Key West (as I had planned before COVID-19) to work on a fellowship application and do some serious writing. I still walk my dog and have looked at a few properties (part of my original plan to look for a vacation home here. I have also eaten outside at places where the tables are spaced far apart. I wear a mask when anyone is near the table.
Q: What have you had to do in order to adapt to these circumstances?
A: Stay home more. Avoid people who do not wear masks. Keep my distance from everyone except my husband.
Epilepsy, Sensory Processing Disorders, and COVID-19:
Q: (If you are neurodiverse) how has this pandemic affected your condition(s) and/or has your condition(s) affected how you’re dealing with everything?
A: I have epilepsy and sensory processing disorder. Wearing a mask gives me a sense of panic and badly irritates my skin, but I do it. In Key West, masks are required everywhere you go, even if you are outside. I respect that and want to keep people safe. I also want to be safe myself.
I also have severe migraine headaches. Someone in my husband’s office ended up infected with COVID-19. She has serious headaches while she was sick and has continued to have them. I was having headaches at the same time, worse than my normal migraines. I was tested for COVID-19 and was found to be negative. I haven’t been tested for antibodies but wonder if I had it.
Coping With Strange Times:
Q: What coping mechanisms are you using in order to deal with these strange times?
A: I am keeping myself busy with things I never have time to do normally, like writing and reading for pleasure. I’ve taken a lot of online classes on subjects that interest me. I order things to be delivered to me and allow my husband to do a lot of the shopping because I get very stressed by people not wearing masks and getting too close to me. I’ve had some do it to intimidate me because I was wearing a mask, expressing their belief that no one should.
Life Lessons & Advice:
Q: What have you learned about yourself and the world around you from these circumstances?
A: I have been able to reconnect to things that made me happy when I was younger. I recognize that health and the well-being of others is more important to me than a lot of the conveniences and freedoms that I had previously taken for granted.
COVID-19 has revealed or made more obvious many disparities in our society that we need to address if we want to live in a just world.
I find it scary that people are so willing to believe misinformation if makes life more convenient for them. I find it sad that people do not value the lives of others who they do not see as similar to themselves.
Q: What advice would you give to someone like yourself that’s currently dealing with similar circumstances?
A: Use critical thinking skills and keep in mind things won’t get better until we do what is necessary to reduce transmission of the virus. Pretending things are normal will just make it that much longer until things do return to normal.
Story by: Kimberly
Interviewed by: Julia Futo
Interviewed on September 1st, 2020
Julia Futo was born on August 5th, 1999, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She faced difficulties early on in life with trying to perform everyday tasks. Before she was five years old, she was diagnosed with two learning disabilities: Encephalopathy and developmental coordination disorder (DCD). She struggled in school for a long time, but that changed when she took journalism in high school and learned how to become an advocate. She is currently in college and hopes to help others find their voices.