One side effect of the pandemic that I have been happy to see are cases of accidental accessibility. By this, I mean changes for the pandemic that have improved accessibility for people with disabilities and chronic conditions.
Expanded remote work
One great example is expanded telework for people who have jobs that allow them to work remotely. Previously, office workers may have had some telework days or could periodically schedule them, such as when they were having home repairs or appointments nearer to home than the office. Telework was considered more of a perk or something earned by good work over a long period of time.
But now entire companies have sent their employees home from the office and told them to telework for the time being, until 2021, or even indefinitely. Some businesses realize that their employees may work harder and longer from home where the boundaries between work time and personal time begin to blur.
Accessibility benefits of remote work
For many years, people with disabilities and chronic conditions have been advocating for expanded telework options. They rightly asked, “If I can perform my job well at home, why shouldn’t this be the option for most or all of the time?” Now. this dream has become a reality.
I can speak personally to the benefits to my rheumatoid arthritis, like reduced pain and fatigue, by not having to commute 40 minutes (or sometimes over an hour) each way for my job every day. I have more energy and feel my work is more productive because I’m less exhausted by the rigors of commuting.
Other examples of accidental accessibility
Another example of accidental accessibility from the pandemic is more open spaces. I haven’t braved eating indoors yet, but I have been to an outdoor restaurant where new rules require fewer people at tables that are spaced wider apart.
More space to maneuver around
I had no trouble getting through to a table because there was greater space to accommodate my wheelchair! Before, I would either have to sit at the outskirts of the dining area or have someone in front of me rearrange chairs and tables to let me through. (And let’s not talk about the nightmare of having to ask people to get up so their chair could be moved aside for me to pass.)
Increased accessibility to virtual options
For me, these simple changes have made a world of difference for increasing accessibility of daily life. Others have commented on how great it is to have virtual concerts and events that they can attend and not have to travel to or worry about inaccessible venues. (Never mind that I feel we shouldn’t have inaccessible venues or spaces 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act.)
More accessible online video content
While technology unfortunately is not 100 percent accessible, if used right it can really be effective. There are now video captions or even live-captioned video meeting platforms. People can get on them from anywhere there is Internet and not have to brave travel.
My hope is that with increasing use of virtual options, more attention and efforts will be made to make all platforms and websites fully accessible to all people with disabilities with expanded Internet access to match.
More accessibility is still needed
Unfortunately, the pandemic has also resulted in greater inaccessibility as well. I hope these issues, like getting safe home care and services delivered to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses where they live, will be addressed. I also hope that discrimination in healthcare will be recognized and rooted out.
But the accidental improvements in accessibility make me smile and give me hope that, if we recognize how they help all people (including those with disabilities and chronic illnesses), we can keep practicing them and gradually increase accessibility of daily life for all.
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