Introduction

COVID-19, EXPOSING THE IMPORTANCE OF ACCESSIBILITY & INCLUSION

COVID-19, EXPOSING THE IMPORTANCE OF ACCESSIBILITY & INCLUSION

The coronavirus has exposed so many issues that the disability community has voiced long before the situation in which our society is currently experiencing. The topics that have been addressed are the need for telework, not shaking hands, wearing masks, not touching things with an open hand, the use of single-use plastics, and price gauging. These societal issues are currently being exposed and should continue to be addressed during and after this time of COVID-19. 

For years, many people within the disability community have been asking for the opportunity to telework as well as for access to better online learning experiences. They have been declined for so long. However, since the beginning of this novel virus, there has been an instant flip of mindset as remote work has suddenly become extremely feasible; so many businesses and schools have quickly switched to online platforms. When online work and schooling was just affecting the disability community, this issue did not qualify as a necessity. But when the nation determined it to be crucial to the general public, then it became a necessity. The health of all employees/students needs to continue to be a priority and remote work/online learning should continue to be an option after this season comes to a close.

After this season comes to a close, another option that should continue to be available is the use of single-use plastics. For a couple of years, there has been discussion of how to reduce single-use plastics; many places have banned plastic bags and plastic straws. But again, when it is in the name of everyone’s health, then it is okay to use single-use items, such as straws. Many people with disabilities need plastic straws–for various reasons–to be able to hydrate; this is crucial for their health. COVID-19 has brought about the awareness that single-use plastics can be a benefit regarding people’s health; therefore they should continue to be available. 

The concern of COVID-19 has brought about the idea that we all should wear masks to prevent the spread of this virus. However, many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have been judged as weird for wearing masks in public. Even after this illness is deemed less threatening, people with chronic illnesses and those who show symptoms of an illness should be able to wear a mask without the fear of social stigma.

The concern for the spread of COVID-19 has also instilled the notion that we should not shake hands. Many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have been judged as rude or weird for not shaking hands. For many with disabilities shaking hands is not something they are physically able to do. Therefore, it should be socially acceptable to not shake hands. For people with chronic illnesses, they have been living the protocol of what COVID-19 has instilled in many for the entirety of their illness. Not shaking hands should not be considered rude as most people who do not shake hands have a reason.

Regarding not touching to avoid spreading the virus, society has also been advised to not touch objects like doorknobs, bathroom stall locks, and faucets with an open hand; do so instead with a closed fist, with an elbow, or a hip. However, this is not always possible as many objects require grip. Never-the-less this advise could be possible if every door and faucet had been designed with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. The ADA states that doors, bathroom stall locks, and faucets need to be able to be used with a closed fist, no pinching, grasping, or twisting needed. If the ADA had actually been implemented 30 years ago, then society would have been ready for COVID-19 protocol.

Then there is price gauging. Businesses like Amazon have been told they cannot price gauge on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This is great, but people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have felt the discrimination of price gauging for years just to get the necessary medical equipment and supplies they require for daily living. 

Just to name a few examples: catheters can cost an astronomical amount of money. In some cases, they can cost over $2,000 per month. Manual wheelchairs can cost close to $10,000–more than a simple motorcycle. Power wheelchairs can cost over $73,000–more than a basic car. Yes, insurance will cover the majority of this expense, but this is why insurance is so expensive and not everyone has insurance. Therefore, eliminating their access to these ridiculous prices covered. Medical supply companies should not be allowed to price gouge like businesses cannot currently price gouge for PPE. These issues need to be known, and hopefully, the coronavirus can be a catalyst in exposing the need for a change in mindset.

Approximately, 61 million Americans live with a disability every day and the disability population is continuing to grow. All Americans deserve the same equitable treatment. The need for access to work, school, and health for the disability community should be addressed as a necessity just like it has been for the general population during this time of COVID-19.