Hi. I am Zaiden Sowle and I am the Content Production Intern at The Darkest Horse. I am sharing my story of disability in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This article is Part 3 in a three-part series. In Part 1, I talked about how I move through the world. In Part 2, I shared how I am navigating my career. And in Part 3, I share what COVID-19 taught me about accessibility. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
PART 3: WHAT COVID-19 TAUGHT ME ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY
In the Spring of 2019, when the whole country made the sudden shift to remote work, learning, and life, I initially felt overwhelmed. I was nervous about how my professors would adapt their classes and syllabi to work better in a remote medium. I was eager to see if, and how, remote learning might afford me greater access to my classes. And, I was scared about what COVID-19 would mean for both my life and the world as a whole.
When my school shifted to remote learning, I hoped that I would find the experience more accessible than in-person classes, where I already relied heavily on technology for some of my various accessibility needs: hearing aids, electronic/online access to readings, and use of my laptop for note taking. I was so relieved that my hope was not misplaced. For the first time in my life, I could just turn up the volume on my classes to as loud as I needed/wanted, making it much, much easier to hear everyone than ever before.
As that semester finished and a new, fully remote, semester began, I noticed many more changes that allowed me greater access to my classes and coursework. To name a few:
- My teachers enabled live captioning on all of my synchronous Zoom classes, allowing me to better follow and participate in discussions/lectures.
- All course materials were fully available in an online/electronic format, eliminating the need to specifically ask my professors for this.
- All of the slides our professors used during the lectures were shared with the class ahead of time, so that we could see them better than we would over Zoom. I found this extraordinarily helpful, as I could zoom/adjust the slides as much as I needed/wanted, allowing for a much easier view of them, and greater access to them.
As I have begun to reflect on my year-plus of remote learning, I notice a few lessons organizations could learn, to better support employees with disabilities. Three lessons that I have gleaned are:
- A hybrid workplace model, with some employees in the physical office and others working remotely, creates greater access to individuals with physical difficulties that make commuting to a physical office difficult.
- Make everything (documents, forms, resources) available in an online/electronic format, ideally screen reader accessible.
- Recognize that these lessons are only the first step towards creating a truly accessible workplace and creating the future of work.
And these are only a few that stand out to me, based on my experience. I hope that all organizations are asking their employees to reflect and share what they’ve learned about their working styles and what works for them during this very different time, and how those styles and needs can be accommodated to make work more accessible for everyone.
REFLECTIONS + RESOURCES:
- What lessons has COVID-19 taught you about accessibility for mental and physical disabilities?
- What have you learned about ways of working that do and don’t work for you?
- What is one thing you would like organizations to learn/takeaway from COVID-19 and remote work?
- Building Radical Inclusion in a Hybrid World
- Why coronavirus may make the world more accessible (BBC)
- What is Disability Justice? (Sins Invalid)
- Becoming a Map for Survival: Interview with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Guernica)