Accessibility has always been an important issue for people with disabilities. People with disabilities have difficulty finding or keeping a job. Disabled students fight in the classroom. Wheelchair users often cannot enter restaurants and other buildings due to the lack of ramps or automatic doorways, and once inside they can face tall tables and other obstacles that disabled people cannot even see. All of this is due to a strong ableism that pervades our society long before COVID-19.
Despite the unfathomable losses and economic devastation that COVID-19 brings, it has undoubtedly shed new light on the problems of inaccessibility for disabled people. It remains to be seen whether the lessons of the pandemic will stay with us as a society or whether the needs of disabled people will be swept under the rug again.
I got the idea to write about ableism after seeing a tweet from a professor named Kathleen Kennedy. who tweeted her own story on August 14th. Kennedy stated that at the beginning of the pandemic, she was told by her university that she could work from home if she filled out the correct ADA papers. When she did so, she was denied. She resigned, only to suddenly demand remote work from all disabled and able-bodied workers 10 days later.
Kennedy said she was inspired to tell her own story after seeing similar reports elsewhere in the media. In the same week it was reported that Cornell University would not consider requests from faculty to teach remotely instead of personally, not even for those looking for accommodation because of chronic illnesses or disabilities.
During the pandemic, office positions that had long forced everyone to be present in the building suddenly found the resources to enable everyone to work from home during the pandemic. And yet there are still obstacles for deaf and hard of hearing people like me. Staff meetings and presentations are held on Zoom and Google Meets, both of which have the ability to have automatic subtitles, although even that is never 100% accurate and lacks proper formatting and punctuation.
As a public figure, companies and the press often turn to me to conduct interviews or discuss business opportunities. Some of these companies are small and cannot afford to hire a third party captioning company, so they rely on automatic captioning on Zoom. While the words themselves are mostly correct, the lack of proper punctuation makes the format difficult to read as it all turns into a continuous sentence.
There are also moments when the subtitles suddenly stop working and the person speaking to me has to start over. At this point I ask you to write in the chat box instead or be provided with an American Sign Language interpreter or appropriate subtitle.
Disabilities in class and at work
Many companies struggle to find staff, but how do they deal with disabled people who apply? Despite the fact that the American with Disabilities Act 1990 went into effect, a large number of companies will reject a disabled person’s application based on their disability. It may be illegal, but companies can simply work their way around the ADA using an excuse other than the obstruction.
I’m 30 years old and I’ve never had a mainstream job because I’m deaf. Add to this the chronic pain and fatigue I’ve experienced over the years and it’s even more reason for companies not to hire me.
Virtual learning has been helpful for students, although there are still barriers for disabled people. (AdobeStock)
Students with disabilities who cannot be present in the classroom due to medical appointments or sick days have long been denied distance learning and risk truancy. From 2020, however, the lessons will take place virtually via Zoom. Recorded lectures have become more accessible with subtitles, making it easier to understand the content provided.
On August 30, Governor Roy Cooper signed Senate Law 654, which allows individual school districts to make daily decisions about whether an individual school or classroom will switch to distance learning.
While this is hopeful news for chronically ill and immunocompromised students, it’s bittersweet that the law also provides that face-to-face classes must resume once the school has recovered from the staff shortage or quarantine that caused the transition.
This endangers immunocompromised students, especially when you consider that there is no federal or even federal one nationwide mask mandate. A couple of counties in North Carolina including the district of MecklenburgThey require a mask to be worn at school, but that is not enough.
I’d be interested in how Senate Bill 654 is being implemented – whether school districts use it to protect their most vulnerable students or just bypass it.
Live music for disabled people
Concerts and other live entertainment raise particular accessibility concerns, and not just because of it the skyrocketing ticket prices we are all dealing with.
Wheelchair and walking stick accessible seating is not always available, and getting into the accessible area can sometimes be challenging with a large crowd. But before you even get to that point, finding accessible tickets can be a challenge.
Accessibility to live entertainment events was an issue for wheelchair users and other disabled people long before the pandemic. (AdobeStock)
For example, the PNC Music Pavilion seating map does not clearly indicate that disabled seating is available and only informs you of that. in small letters at the bottom of the homepage that the venue is accessible at all. The website says you need to buy your tickets to find out about accessible seating, but when I tested buying a ticket I couldn’t find any information about it. There should be a separate page with clear accessibility information instead of having to jump through hoops to find out about it on the disabled person’s shoulders.
When I tested my ticket to a recent concert, lawn prices were around $ 18, while first-floor seats that would be required for disabled people to sit ranged from $ 161 to nearly $ 300. Information on discounted tickets for disabled visitors is not available. This is a disability tax on top of the already increased prices that shouldn’t be there.
Sign language interpreters are also not always available. However, since COVID, virtual concerts have become more common and hosts tend to call in interpreters, or interpreters give their time to interpret acts themselves and upload them to the internet.
Eating is about accessibility … for a while
In the restaurant scene, the surge in roadside pickups and mobile app / online ordering during the pandemic has been a boon for all of us. For me as a deaf person, restaurants have made it easy for me to get exactly what I want and I don’t have to risk anything being misunderstood, resulting in wrong orders.
I don’t have to speak to a Starbucks representative in person to place my order. I don’t have to find out if my name is called because my order is on a pick-up shelf with my name on the ticket. As a chronically aching and exhausted person, I don’t have to spend time walking around a store to get what I need. I don’t have to be with a lot of people. I can just pull up, have my things packed in the car for me and drive home.
A better accessibility also included the assumption that many restaurants on the roadside were offered to take away. (AdobeStock)
Lately I can already see that some establishments, such as Starbucks, have started getting rid of their roadside pickup. Roadside pick-up signs have been covered in white paper and the only options available on the mobile app in most locations are in-store pick-up and drive-through.
COVID is still a terrible thing that causes death and weighs on society as a whole, but the fact is it has forced the world to become a little more accessible to a marginalized group fighting for these rights for years, long after the ADA should ensure it.
Now what happens when things open up again? Will business take away from accessibility if it doesn’t correlate with higher profits? When they start to disappear, will disabled people at least be able to apply for housing, knowing that it is indeed possible, or will we be denied and lied to again?
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