As the pandemic heads into its third year, it’s natural to feel depressed, angry and exhausted. After all, COVID-19 has necessitated all sorts of unwanted lifestyle changes. And people with disabilities have faced even greater hardship than the average person.
But the situation isn’t entirely bleak. The pandemic forced certain developments in the areas of employment, technology, healthcare, entertainment and education that have benefited individuals with disabilities.
Now, we’re faced with the challenge of ensuring that those benefits don’t disappear when the pandemic is finally over. “The experience gained throughout the pandemic could also teach us how listening to and embedding the needs of people with disabilities in ‘non-pandemic times’ might allow us to create systems that are better for everyone, and potentially more responsive in times of crisis,” write Mikaela Patrick and Dr. Giulia Barbareschi for the Global Disability Innovation Hub.
Here are some of the positive changes that have taken place over the last two years.
1. The American Rescue Plan
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed The American Rescue Plan (ARP). The plan allocated $12.7 billion for home and community-based services (HCBS) through March 2022. The ARP covered expenses such as internet and assistive technology for individuals with disabilities who worked remotely. It also provided funding for transportation, job coaching and personal care attendants.
2. Remote Employment
The pandemic forced employers to allow their employees to work from home, something disabled workers have requested for decades. The acceptance of remote employment created opportunities for individuals with disabilities to qualify for jobs that weren’t available to them pre-pandemic.
3. Improved Technology
Because so many employees worked remotely during the pandemic, assistive technology was compelled to keep up with the needs of the remote workforce. Thus, online accessibility features got better. For example, “Speech-to-text software has improved dramatically over the last year as more and more people have utilized it while working from home,” writes Lucy Currier of Disability Horizons. “Every operating system now has … accessibility features built-in.”
Likewise, websites have become more accessible and video calling software “has become more inclusive, with new features having been added,” says Currier.
The pandemic has brought telehealth into the mainstream with most healthcare organizations now offering patients the option to see their physicians through telehealth platforms. The change makes it easier for individuals with mobility, financial and transportation challenges to receive medical care from their own homes.
5. Food delivery
During the pandemic, food delivery became an option for anyone who could afford a relatively small delivery fee. This benefited anyone wishing to avoid going to the grocery store, but especially people with disabilities facing mobility and transportation issues or increased vulnerability to the virus because of medical conditions.
6. Online classes
While virtual learning was challenging for children—especially those with disabilities—in some cases online classes were a boon. For example, individuals with disabilities looking for convenient option for exercise suddenly had access to fitness classes of all kinds from all over the world.
7. Virtual sightseeing
Listening to a concert or attending a museum online isn’t the same as being there. Yet, the pandemic has forced arts organizations to make their offerings available to visitors who don’t feel safe making in-person visits. Now, you can “travel” to distant lands, enter inaccessible historic buildings, or have a front row seat to a Broadway production just by turning on your TV or computer! We’ll take it!