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Employers: Please Accommodate Disabled Workers All the Time, Not 'Just' for Coronavirus

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new viral strain in the coronavirus family, a group of illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), spreading around the world. 

As the virus’s presence continues to grow, society has started to rethink its daily activities, such as going to work and/or school. Employers have started making accommodations like allowing people to work from home and encouraging virtual meetings over in-person ones. Some universities now have virtual classes available. While these precautionary measures can help prevent the spread of coronavirus (not to mention save lives of people in populations more vulnerable to sickness!), I can’t help but wish these kinds of accommodations would be available to the disability community all the time, not just in times of crisis.

For years, our requests to take classes virtually when unable to attend in person due to health issues have been denied. Attendance policies are archaic and inherently ableist. Disabled and chronically ill students are forced to drop out because of schools’ unwillingness to accommodate them. I’ve grown tired of the classic excuse of: “having to accommodate one means having to accommodate them all.” 

The same applies to employers. Suddenly, because of the coronavirus, virtual meetings and working from home are both attainable. In fact, they are preferred. Why is that? One word: fear. Fear has taken over our lives. No one wants to go out in public or be part of a large crowd. It is safer for everyone. Seemingly healthy people are now experiencing what those of us who are disabled and/or chronically ill go through on a daily basis.

So why are all these accommodations now magically OK? Because it affects the masses. The disabled and chronically ill are not seen as important members of society. They are seen as burdens and inconveniences, their lives thought of as expendable. If you feel that statement is an exaggeration, just take a look at social media. The amount of comments being circulated that only the elderly and chronically ill will die from this virus is absolutely disgusting. Yet, the same people are attending virtual meetings out of fear of getting sick. 

Isn’t it heartbreaking that when some accommodation can be easily made for someone who is disabled or chronically ill, it is seen as a hassle? Now that something life-threatening is affecting those who are not disabled or ill, employers and schools are bending over backward to make those accommodations. This whole experience exposes the ableism that runs rampant throughout society. The response to coronavirus proves that employers can make accommodations, they just don’t want to. 

The panic over the virus may diminish. The virus itself may be contained. But the ableism that has come to light during all of this won’t vanish. It will simply be swept under the rug just like it has been in the past.

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GettyImages photo via Nadezhda Fedrunova

Originally published: March 10, 2020
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