It’s the 30th anniversary of the ADA this year and the most amazing thing has happened. After years of hearing it was too difficult and couldn’t be done, the world became much more accessible basically overnight.
The truth is the context of this dream-come-true hurts a little. It wasn’t done for us, the people who need accessibility every day. It was done because an emergency happened and everybody else suddenly needed it too. So as amazing as all these newly accessible options are, the COVID-19 pandemic being the catalyst for accessibility feels like a slap in the face to many disabled people.
When I became disabled years ago, my world fell apart. I found myself losing my community and my goals more and more because I literally couldn’t access them. University classes. Jobs. Social events. Sometimes even the things that should automatically be accessible, such as medical care, weren’t. There have been a lot of losses, but I have some hopes too:
1. I hope we all learn from this and keep on demanding the things we need to have good lives, even when others who don’t need it don’t seem to find it important.
2. I hope this new accessible world stays just as accessible and keeps becoming even more accessible.
3. I hope we realize that many disabled people were already living on less than the stimulus some of you got.
4. I hope we can all see how education and job training could have been made accessible all along.
5. I hope we realize that waiting many years to finally get approved for disability is cruel. Who in your family would support you for many years without complaint? How many families become deeply strained or broken because of waiting for benefits?
6. I hope we see that companies could become accessible within weeks, if not days, yet remember how many employees were told these same accommodations were asking far too much of management not long before.
7. I hope we remember that the world and this emergency proved we really could do it when we finally saw a reason and wanted to.
It’s pretty incredible that it only took 30 years after the ADA to get here. Unfortunately, it only happened when an emergency was happening to everyone and everyone needed it. We still know it can work, though. It’s been proven and we are practicing at it together, getting better every day. By the time this quarantine is over, we as a society will understand accessibility basics and how to make it work. So please tell your local leaders and businesses that keeping and expanding accessibility is one of your hopes too, not just mine, and that we are going to maintain these skills and options long after this emergency is over. Let’s stay accessible!
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