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What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About Accessibility

Reading time | 4 mins

Accessibility is really important to me. I believe that everyone should care about the rights of disabled people, because any one of us could become disabled at some point in our lives.

As a disabled person and a wheelchair user, I am very vocal about injustices and inequality. I don’t just want level access or lifts that will help me. I want signs in braille, autism-friendly spaces, audio description, hearing loops, and more. Wheelchair ramps, sign language interpreters, and accessible bathrooms should be standard practice. Yet, in my opinion, we have a long way to go before the world is an accessible haven.

Accessibility in the COVID-19 world 

However, during the pandemic, many changes have been put in place that the disabled and chronically ill communities have needed for a long time. Many of these changes are things we’ve been asking employers, businesses, shopping centres, and even medical institutions for years, but were previously overlooked. We’ve shouted, campaigned and even protested for simple adjustments to be made throughout the years and were denied, only for them to be quickly implemented during the crisis we’re all currently facing.

I am not even talking about huge, infrastructural changes. I mean things like the ability to work from home when flaring, having video calls with medical staff and taking classes online. The coronavirus outbreak has achieved what years of protesting did not. It’s sad that these changes have primarily been made for the masses, and not the 1 billion disabled people across the world who have been requesting it for years.

Many non-disabled people are now experiencing what it’s like to have barriers preventing them from participating in everyday society. Contrastingly however, the world has now opened up for those living with disabilities, as virtual ways of living means they now have the ability to work, experience culture, and socialise, all from the comfort of our own homes.

Before the pandemic, simple requests to work remotely were often denied, but within a week of lockdown many non-essential businesses took their work online to do at home.

The beauty of technology

The global health crisis has proven just how inclusive the world can be with museum tours, concerts, educational classes and much more being accessed via the internet. This means that disabled people are able to get involved in things that they may have never had access to in the pre-pandemic world.

The impact these changes have made to my life – as well as to other disabled people’s lives – is vast.

I recently had a video chat with my doctor about an on-going medical complaint without having to leave my bed. My prescription was then emailed to my local pharmacy across the road and my boyfriend collected it.

As someone that is poorly quite often and doesn’t have the energy to attend a face-to-face consultation, remote appointments are a great alternative. Of course, they have their pitfalls as a physical examination cannot be conducted, but if it is something like changing medication or follow-up appointments, then it is favourable.

I also think that video chats or phone calls with mental health professionals is something that should continue, as it may remove some of the anxiety that often comes with visiting a new place and meeting a new person.

As someone that worked from home before the coronavirus outbreak turned our world upside down, I can attest to how important it is for me and my health. I can work at whatever time suits me. I can work lying in bed. Most importantly, I can work around my conditions. If I am flaring with pain or fatigue, I am able to control my working hours and adapt them to when I am feeling better.

This is all a massive benefit and gives me the opportunity to still contribute, while making sure I’m doing it in a way that is best for my health and wellbeing. I am sure that many disabled and chronically ill people are experiencing a lot of advantages in being allowed to work from home.

Hopes for an inclusive future

Will these changes that have benefited so many disabled people during pandemic remain once the world goes back to normal?

I am optimistic.

Because a lot of these changes in accessibility have been done easily and quickly enough, there is no reason for them not to stay in place. There is proof that they work and that they are attainable, so there is no reason for things to go back to the way they were. I hope accessibility and inclusion stay on this current upwards trajectory and that we continue to make improvements.

Disabled and chronically ill people should never feel like they are alienated from the rest of society. Our needs are as just important as the masses.

UK/MED/20/0177 June 2020