What a ride the last few months have been. The world as we know it has shifted and is flipped on its head. COVID-19 has brought to light a variety of disability issues that are often pushed to the back burner or sidelined. My hope is that as we all learn and navigate each day together, we review and look for new solutions to these long-standing issues. I believe the pandemic could potentially improve the world for individuals with disabilities in three main areas: Employment, Community Engagement and Disability Rights. As we move forward and navigate this global issue, it is up to us to work to make these changes to improve the world we live in. Think about where your reach is and work to make improvements in the arenas you can.
I realize that right now unemployment is one of the biggest problems caused by the pandemic. Often the last ones hired, individuals with disabilities are often the first ones to be let go in an economic downturn. I realize right now things look bleak. My hope is that rapid changes to our work environments have created potential mindset-shifts that could change the way we look at accommodations. COVID-19 created a need to accommodate rapidly a great number of workers as well as forced us to look at how we have been doing business in the past. As we navigate the necessity for moving to a more virtual work world, we are seeing that there are a variety of ways that working from home is viable. We are working through systems that have often seen working from home as a difficult or unreasonable accommodation. Working from home has become an accommodation for a lot of us, not just for an individual with a disability. Innovative accommodations are happening daily at brick-and-mortar sites as well. Just one month ago, none of us wore masks to work. Masks are now an accommodation for all of us to be able to work and remain healthy. Maybe as we move through this we will see accommodations more universally and with more flexibility.
It has taken years of work to open up opportunities to live outside of congregate settings and to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The pandemic is showing us more reasons that having options to live in a community setting instead of large group settings increases the health of individuals. The importance of community is also becoming more apparent. COVID-19 is showing us the importance of a work community as well. Work is therapy. Those of us who have had consistent work throughout our lives are realizing that separating from our work family and consistent schedules is affecting our mental health. As we move forward, I hope that living through this separation from our loved ones, our communities and our work settings helps us focus on how to be more inclusive of all people by increasing opportunities to connect to local communities, work communities and life experiences.
This pandemic is making it necessary to review and evaluate disability rights. Concerns raised by COVID-19 have shined a light on rights for healthcare, rights to live outside of congregate settings, rights to services and rights to work. As we navigate what some are calling “the new normal,” I hope that we all put a new focus on remembering what makes a society worth living in. Now is the time to look at legislation and elected officials that put a focus on disability issues and work to pass proactive and realistic legislation that make this world a better place for each of us.
As we all navigate the current constantly changing environment, remember to reach out to your local Rocky Mountain Brand Ambassador or the Rocky Mountain ADA Center to connect to resources and support.