Updated: Feb 18, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal, especially in the United States. Both the actual impact of the virus itself and the mental strain of the lock downs around the country have taken their toll. Those of us in the neuromuscular community are particularly affected by both due to the status of many of us as at-risk for COVID-19. But I wanted to talk today about one of the few positive things that has emerged since the pandemic started: the increased prevalence of online socializing.
Prior to the lock down, hanging out with friends was a bit of an ordeal. Either one of my parents drives me to wherever we’re meeting, or I have to go to one of the few accessible train stations near me and travel into the city of Philadelphia. I’m lucky that these are legitimate options for me, but obviously neither is ideal while using a wheelchair to get around all the time.
Since the pandemic started, everybody has been forced to stay home or risk their health, which has driven socialization online. Even though we can’t be in person, my friends and I have been able to stay in touch over the Internet. We can talk to each other over Discord voice chat while playing board games on websites that let you do so virtually. I know that they aren’t hanging out without me or visiting inaccessible locations, because staying home right now is in their best interests as well.
In general, this has actually made the world a lot more accessible to me than it was before the pandemic started. Without all the physical limitations created by an inaccessible society, we’ve been able to play nearly every week and keep in touch. Not only that, but I’ve been able to do so without feeling like I’m adding to my parents’ workload by asking them to drive me everywhere. My stress has actually gone down—in this narrow facet of my life, at least.
One of my hopes is that when a vaccine for COVID-19 is widely distributed - whenever that may be - our world retains the flexibility that has arisen due to the pandemic. Events like concerts and shows should be streamed online for increased accessibility, and virtual options for school and work should be entertained even when the pandemic ends. We’ve learned over the past few months that alternate methods of participation in society are necessary for many people, and that won’t change just because of a vaccine. Of course, some of these options aren’t perfect. For example, virtual schooling, while beneficial for some, may also require increased support for students and teachers.
This pandemic is an opportunity to redefine what accessibility really means. Many previously able-bodied people must now use similar accommodations as disabled people because either they or a close family member are at-risk for COVID. The line between disabled and able-bodied is blurring for now, and as a result, the concept of accessibility is becoming more applicable to more people. I’ve benefited from that tremendously, even as the pandemic wreaks havoc on myself and the world around me. I hope that whenever this is over, we retain the more widespread accessibility that we’re beginning to be accustomed to.
Author: Luke Hoban