What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About Accessibility

In March of this year, the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has forced us to adapt to the new restrictions of a changing world. It’s no secret that this pandemic has flipped not only our lives, but also our lifestyles upside down. The ways in which our daily lives have changed are endless; grocery shopping is a thing of the past with grocery delivery services taking over. Jobs that we thought had to be done in person have turned into remote assignments. Doctors offices have been replaced with zoom appointments. These changes continue as the new school year begins, teachers and students have to learn how to adapt to online learning and employers have to create a hybrid approach for the workplace. Although these changes may be seen as inconveniences, they’ve actually made our world more accessible for disabled folks. Our world has adapted in ways that they have never done before. 

Before the pandemic the obstacles for those with disabilities were endless. How are wheelchair users supposed to navigate a crowded restaurant when going to meet with friends? Or go out to a bar? There are so many factors that go into it that no one thinks about: is there accessible transportation available? Most public transportation is nearly impossible to navigate in a wheelchair. If you drive there in an accessible van, is there parking nearby the restaurant? In addition, those with chronic illnesses can’t plan when there will be energy for a night out with friends. Chronic illness makes it difficult to feel included and participate in activities when you never know if you’re going to have the capacity to. 

Nights out have been replaced with zoom hangouts and virtual trivia, events that everyone can participate in regardless of their mobility. College students with disabilities have always felt restricted and limited in their options due to the lack of accessibility of college campuses. How are you supposed to get to class if there’s no wheelchair ramps in any of the buildings or no spot for a wheelchair in the lecture hall? Now, anyone can participate in college courses and learn from the wide variety of universities that have chosen a hybrid or all-online approach for years. There are no longer physical limitations keeping students from learning. 

However, it’s a bittersweet feeling for disabled folk who have fought for these accommodations all of their lives with no success. As Danielle Campoamor wrote in an article for Teen Vogue “it can be painful to watch policies we’ve been told were impossibilities, unfair work arrangements, or somehow detrimental to the energy of the workplace, be so widely and effortlessly implemented”. For years the disabled community has fought for the rights of disabled people to have the same access to job opportunities and essential services, yet have been met with constant pushback and excuses. The response has always been that it would just be ‘too difficult’ and the obstacles were ‘impossible to work around’, and yet we have seen a global transition to this new normal we’re living in without a hitch. If this has shown us anything, it’s that there are an infinite number of accommodation options that could be available, but aren’t. 

Our world has so far to go in terms of accessibility and understanding, but the first step should be that we should never go back to a time when we do not offer these accommodations. Pharmacies should always deliver, remote job offerings should always exist, colleges should always offer online classes, and disabilities should never hinder anyone’s ability to participate in anything. Campoamor also writes, “it’s often up to people with mental or physical disabilities to advocate for themselves in situations that can be taxing, purposefully confusing, and aren’t guaranteed to end in the employee’s favor. So, watching the world swiftly alter office work environments and provide education alternatives for able-bodied people can be both exciting and infuriating”. 

Here is a list of all the accommodations that have been made since the pandemic began, and should never go away from @strengthcenteredspeech on instagram. 

“If you have benefitted from any of these accommodations during the pandemic, it is your responsibility to hold your workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities to do the same for disabled folk, always.”- @strengthcenteredspeech

Clearly we are more than capable of providing these accommodations and adapting to any situation. Employers, teachers, and CEO’s choose not to. It’s a privilege to be able to apply to any job you want, to be able to go out to dinner without checking if it’s accessible, to go to concerts and other events. If you find this pandemic to be difficult for you, it’s time we see the world from a different perspective. It’s time we start recognizing this privilege and making the world more accessible for all.