Editor's note: Lucia Rios writes a regular column exploring ways to improve accessibility and inclusion.
I read a headline that said Twitter employees can work from home forever. I thought it was a joke. It was not.
The option to work remotely has been a great accommodation for employees, those with and without disabilities. Who knew it would be a pandemic to unite both worlds — at least in shifting the conversation about access and inclusion.
Remote work is just one of the many ways people without disabilities are embracing a culture of alternative access.
Access and inclusion
Recently, I read an article on the BBC website
titled “Why coronavirus may make the world more accessible.” A quote jumped out at me, and I’ve been reflecting on it ever since:
“Hopefully this pandemic has shown people that you can be trapped at home, by no fault of your own, and you can still contribute,” says Mik Scarlet, an expert in the field of access and inclusion for disabled people. “In the same way that we’re trying to plan our end of lockdown, can we also plan for the end of society being inaccessible?”
It's exciting to think about.
Isolation, inaccessible locations, and attitudes have been a longstanding battle for the disability community.
No invitations to fun activities, due to assumptions or lack of physical access.
Showing up to speak at an event only to be carried on stage while attendees stare.
True scenarios in my case. While I cannot speak for all people with disabilities, I’m thankful that we can begin to share our experiences in the world of remote access.
A shift in mindset
If we really think about it, catered access for all started to shift before COVID-19. It began slowly, and not necessarily geared toward people with disabilities. Online shopping through Amazon and retail websites. You had Uber and Lyft for transportation options. Door-to-door grocery delivery via Shipt, and major chain stores started to offer curbside pick-up.
What I saw as an accommodation — grocery shopping is hard while pushing a wheelchair — became a legitimate way of accessing goods and services. Not saying an accommodation isn’t authentic, but you need to ask for an alternate way to get what you need. Trust me, when saying, “Can I get an accommodation?” the alarms go off for those who don’t understand.
Does this mean extra work?
Am I going to have to spend more money?
Will I lose business?
If we look at how we are adapting to the non-contact world because of COVID-19, you can see how adaptable accommodations can be. Instead of in-person meetings, we are using Zoom, Google Meetings, and Skype. Sit-down restaurants are offering online ordering and curbside pick-up.
You don’t even have to leave your car. Stores are offering special hours for individuals with pre-existing conditions, and that works for people who struggle with social anxiety, as well. I’ve seen people having virtual happy hours. Musicians are hosting virtual concerts from their homes — even tip jars are virtual!
Moving beyond a pandemic
I hope, once we’re out of quarantine, we don’t stop making access and inclusion an important topic. I, along with others, will still be disabled. Personally, I don’t want to go back to business as usual. I want our Lakeshore community to continue to be mindful of those with disabilities, and how adaptable we were during a crisis to include everyone.
It shouldn’t take a crisis to include people with disabilities. I’m a firm believer that accessibility — in various forms — are good for everyone.
Want to have a conversation about how our community can continue to support inclusion of all people?
Let’s meet up — virtually or in person — once we’re out of quarantine.
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Lucia Rios is a writer, disability activist, and a contributor to The Lakeshore. You can reach her at [email protected]This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.