Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, on why we have to emerge from COVID-19 thinking about accessibility
The coronavirus pandemic has already altered daily life beyond recognition. It will shape our lives for years to come, mostly in ways that are impossible to predict, let alone understand. Esquire asked twenty people to share their experiences in the first few months of the outbreak. Each of their first-person accounts is a reassurance that none of us are facing this alone.
When the pandemic began in this country, it was like, “Don’t worry, it’s only life-threatening for those who are high-risk. It’s just a bad flu for the rest of us.” In this critical time, when scarcity is a reality, you see the hierarchy. Certain groups are valued over others. This is the world that so many disabled and chronically ill people already live in. Our lives are still seen as expendable. Now the magnitude is much greater.
This pandemic has brought about changes to accessibility for things that disabled people have been advocating for forever. You see artists streaming performances. You see people working remotely. When disabled people asked for those very reasonable accommodations, we’ve been told, “You can’t do that. It’s too hard.” Twice I was invited to be on a panel at South by Southwest, and each time I said, “I don’t travel. I want to do this via Skype.” Both times I was told no. “There are too many issues.” That was the excuse!
My hope for coming out of this pandemic is that we don’t return to the status quo. Many don’t realize that “normal” was actually not great for a lot of people. Just because all of the non-disabled people go back to work—or to Burning Man, or to Coachella—that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about accessibility.