By Anna Lise
When I first started college, I discovered my passion for American Sign Language. During my first class, I met my friend Nicole who has Cerebral Palsy. She uses Lofstrand (forearm) crutches and an electric scooter to get around. She also sometimes uses a wheelchair, when long walks are too much for her. Nicole taught me so much about disability, fairness, and rights, and between her and my ASL classes, my passion for disability rights was fully sparked.
While the world, and especially the US, has gone through some major negative changes during the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been some positive effects as well. One very important thing is that so many people are now working and learning from home. While in some ways there are disadvantages to this, there are many benefits to this, including not having to commute to work or wear work attire, and being able to spend more time with family. Perhaps surprisingly, disabled and chronically ill people reap many of the benefits. Most offices these days are ADA compliant, but they might still create challenges for people who use mobility devices. For example, there could be not enough space for a wheelchair, or carpets might interfere with crutches. When working from home, in a space that already has been set up for a disabled person, some of these challenges have disappeared. Also, commuting on public transportation with a mobility device can be a real headache, and with no longer any need for commuting in a work-from-home situation, that too has disappeared.
I spoke with my friend Nicole about her experience during the pandemic. While she misses office life, she said her life has become easier in many ways. One example is the need to take time off for doctor appointments and physical therapy. In the past, one could get in trouble for needing a lot of time off work, even for necessary medical reasons. Now, people working from home most likely have more flexible schedules, which really helps in dealing with health-related reasons or with family commitments. Nicole has found that the flexibility of being at home makes scheduling her life much easier, as it is no longer a big deal to change a meeting time for an appointment, for example. She hopes that this will continue in the future. Nicole thinks remote work and school should be allowed under the ADA “reasonable accommodations” and is hopeful for future developments in this work-from-home culture.
Another topic I discussed with Nicole was the Black Lives Matter movement. Although on the surface it may not seem linked, this movement has sparked a lot of discussion on intersectionality, and how disability rights are also incredibly important and are being recognized. The protests have been mainly about Black lives, but the movement has included fighting for disability rights. Black disabled people, especially if they are queer, are some of the most disadvantaged people in all of the US. Nicole feels this movement has sparked a lot of talk about disability rights, which is long overdue. We both feel hopeful for the future of this movement.
Although living in full or partial lockdown has been incredibly difficult for most everyone in the US and globally, and we probably all wish to get back to “normalcy” in many ways, it is good to recognize and appreciate the advantages we have been presented with during this difficult time of missing our friends, our family, and our work colleagues.