If I Were a Rich Man:
Accessibility Now and Forever

If I Were A Rich Man: A Series
By Serena Saunders

Join Feminist Majority Foundation intern Serena Saunders each week in If I Were a Rich Man as she explores the topic of money–as it relates to feminism–to provide young people with the information and resources they need to survive, thrive, and fight economic injustices. In this post, Serena covers the need for accessibility always–and not only when it’s “convenient”.

How are COVID-19 Responses Changing Perceptions of Reasonable Accommodations?

A crucial part of “flattening the curve” to slow the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing, which entails deliberately increasing the amount of physical space between people. Anyone who can is generally being encouraged to work from home, and many classes in schools and colleges have been moved to online-only formats. Yet when workers and students with disabilities have demanded these same accommodations (for years on end), they have been met with silence or, even worse, denials that such measures were feasible.

“When disabled people NEED an accommodation, we are denied & gaslit. When abled people are affected, suddenly ‘impossible’ things like a livestream are doable,” noted disability rights advocate Karrie Higgins. From 2017-2018, only 29% of employees were able to work from home, did work from home, and were paid for work from home. But a new survey detailed in Harvard Business Review shows that 46% of employers have already increased their employees’ flexibility to work from home and 13% plan to in response to the current pandemic. More than 100 colleges, collectively teaching millions of students, have migrated entirely to online platforms or plan to do so after their respective spring breaks, a dramatic uptick from the 34% of students who were enrolled in even one online class in 2017.

Of course, these massive shifts in the ways people are working and studying aren’t entirely seamless: it will take weeks to settle into these new routines, which may have longer-lasting effects than we currently are aware of, such as increased loneliness and decreased productivity. But these shifts still prove that such changes to the status quo are possible if employers and schools decide that they are and choose to invest in them.

“When disabled people NEED an accommodation, we are denied & gaslit. When abled people are affected, suddenly ‘impossible’ things like a livestream are doable.”
– Karrie Higgins

Why Is This a Feminist Issue?

About 1 in 4 Americans–and 1 in 4 women–has a disability. Disabled people face disproportionate inabilities to access healthcare: “1 in 3 adults with disabilities 18 to 44 years do not have a usual health care provider. 1 in 3 adults with disabilities 18 to 44 years have an unmet health care need because of cost in the past year.” This means that despite needing healthcare more than other populations, disabled people often still can’t afford it. Because accessibility comes at a premium–one that many low-wage workers and low-income students can’t afford, lack of accessible workplaces and accommodating schools is exacerbating this issue by forcing students and workers to choose either healthcare or their work or schooling at any given moment.

Employers and schools who either ignore the accommodations needs of disabled people entirely or who require extensive, unnecessary documentation of such disabilities choose to count those with disabilities out. This Coronavirus-provided confirmation that accessibility is a necessity should drive us to be more cognizant of the fact that disabled people require accessibility year-round, not just during times of crisis, and should empower us to act upon that fact.

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