Accessibility Options I Hope to See Remain After COVID-19

One of the common refrains I’ve heard from many in the disability advocacy community is that COVID-19 has resulted in everyone from employers to religious communities creating accommodations that would’ve been helpful for people with certain kinds of disabilities to have to begin with. Some in the disability community have even noted the irony that many of the accessibility options that were previously deemed too inconvenient or difficult to implement have only been implemented during COVID-19 now that the ability of able-bodied people to function was being compromised. And that is true—it is ironic indeed.

One of the concerns is that once we get past COVID-19, many of the things that made the world more accessible in certain ways for people with certain kinds of disabilities will disappear. I hope this concern does not turn into reality. As such, on this day, the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law, I want to highlight the following things that I hope to not see disappear from an accessibility standpoint after COVID-19[1]:

More Ability to Work from Home

Unfortunately, the streets, sidewalks, and subways (for those who have subways), to name a few, were not necessarily designed for people with accessibility issues in mind. As such, everything from snow mounds at street crossings during the winter to unreliable subway elevators at all times of year make it exceptionally difficult for people with mobility limitations to navigate around in ways that they get to work in good time.

As such, having greater ability to work from home and not have to worry as frequently about navigating the outdoor obstacle course to get to work seems wise. Working from home came into place at many companies due to COVID-19; hopefully this option can stay, for people in industries where working from home is possible and for people who could use the ability to work from home to begin with. All that being said, I should make it clear that this should be done in addition to, not instead of, making sure that countries, states, cities, and towns are made wheelchair-accessible.

More Livestreamed Religious Services

This is not the first time I have talked about accessibility of religious spaces on my blog—I expressed dismay about the opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) within American Christianity in the past. I wish religious institutions were not exempt from ADA, but until that day comes, there are going to be religious spaces without some basic accessibility features, such as ramps and wheelchair-friendly bathrooms.

In the interim, a good step would be to have more livestreamed religious services, so that people have more of an opportunity to watch their services from home. Livestreamed services have also become a much more common theme than before because of COVID-19, in order to keep people from coming to religious spaces and potentially contributing to the spread of the virus. Hopefully, these livestreamed services will continue and not go away just because able-bodied people feel safe going to church again.

More Doors that Could be Opened Automatically

Before the pandemic, such a device was viewed by some as an item just too expensive to implement. But as many of us turned into germaphobes as a result of the pandemic, having doors that could be opened without our touching them suddenly became a necessity, regardless of what the expense might be. For people with certain kinds of physical disabilities, automatically opening doors were a necessity long before any global pandemic.

Given the necessity of automatically opening doors, regardless of any pandemic, I am hoping that this is something that we continue to have even post-pandemic. While a germaphobe might not want to touch a door due to COVID, a person with certain kinds of physical limitations may be completely unable to open a door in the first place, regardless of whether they want to or not.

There are clearly certain ways that the world has been made more accessible for people with certain kinds of disabilities (and particularly, physical disabilities) as a result of COVID-19. However, it is important to be realistic and realize that this pandemic has not cured the world of all its ableistic tendencies. For example, the pandemic has not resulted in religious buildings becoming more accessible, in subways receiving more elevators, and in sidewalks that need ramps for wheelchairs receiving such ramps. If anything, the fiscal peril that many, ranging from religious institutions to local governments, are facing due to COVID-19 will give a lot of places the excuse that they cannot afford to make certain places and spaces more accessible for people with disabilities (as to whether such places truly cannot afford such improvements, I guess one can only judge on a case-by-case basis). Still, there are certain ways our world has become more accessible due to COVID-19 that will hopefully remain after the pandemic.

Are there other forms of accommodation that you hope remain after COVID for the sake of people with disabilities? If so, please comment below.

[1] Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list. There may be other forms of accessibility that have only come into place that I’m forgetting right now—if there are any such things you want to highlight, please feel free to respond in the comments section below.

My (Hopefully) Final Coronavirus Update From New York City: May 27, 2021

Ever since I got my second COVID-19 vaccine dose, I’ve been thinking about if, when, and how to end my weekly updates.

Tonight’s post is the culmination of that thinking.

My thinking was that it would be time to end these weekly updates once everyone in my family was: a) vaccinated, b) at full immunity, and c) in a neighborhood where the COVID test positivity rate was low.

And now, all three things are the case.

My parents their second vaccine doses in mid-March, I got my second vaccine dose in late April, and my younger brother got his second vaccine dose in early May. As all of us are not only fully vaccinated but to a point where we are all at maximum immunity, the risk of any of us getting COVID (let alone seriously getting ill from it) seems extremely low. It’s not impossible to get COVID even if you’re vaccinated (look at the outbreak that happened with the New York Yankees baseball team as an example), but the chances are very low.

Additionally, the test positivity rate for COVID in my neighborhood is now extremely low–at just over 1%. It is good news that the test positivity rate is as low as it is. The good news means that I am no longer reporting from a COVID hotspot, and it means that the concern that existed about all of us in New York when I started my first iteration of these posts (or even when I started my second iteration of these posts) does not exist to the same extent. If such concerns come back, I will resume these weekly update posts, but unless and until that happens, I think now is a good time to end these weekly update posts.

I should emphasize that just because I’m ending my COVID update posts doesn’t mean that COVID as a whole is over, either in the United States or around the world. Far from it. Hundreds are still dying from the pandemic every day in the United States, while worldwide we are at our highest death rate since January. If we think we’re done with this pandemic, we are very badly mistaken. To that end, those who aren’t vaccinated should get vaccinated, while at the same time practice the appropriate public health precautions until being fully vaccinated.

Last, but not least, I want to thank all of you, my readers, for being a part of this journey. It has been quite the journey, but I am thankful for the fact that many readers have joined me on it.

Please note that I will not write a post next Monday, since next Monday is Memorial Day.

Work From Home and the Environment

I should start by making this much clear: we are not in a post-COVID world. Far from it. For all of the talk of reopening things right now, COVID is still very much a factor. We are losing hundreds of Americans per day.

However, at some point we are going to be looking at the other side of this virus, and at that point, we are going to need to think about what different workplaces look like after the virus. Granted, many workplaces are already thinking about this.

Some workplaces cannot function virtually and therefore may end up looking the same as they were before the virus. There are many professions, such as many service industries, manufacturing, construction, and much more, that must be done on site and cannot be done virtually. There are other workplaces that have tried to function virtually, but with significant problems since the pandemic began—teaching comes to mind as one such profession.

However, some workplaces have discovered that they can function virtually quite well, and in some cases as well as they did before the virus. In such cases, it would be best from an environmental standpoint if work from home became a long-term condition.

In many countries, including the United States, transport is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions.[1] Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of said transport comes from the car,[2] which is the vehicle of choice for many to head to work. What this means is that if fewer people needed to go to a workplace, fewer people would need to drive. And if fewer people need to drive, there’s less pollution coming into the air, contributing to the problems of dirty air and global warming.

Basically, work from home is environmentally friendly.

Now, the question of whether continuing to work from home after COVID (in industries that have been able to work from home during COVID) is going to be, in many cases, an office-by-office decision, depending on how well different offices felt they were able to function during the pandemic. Some offices may decide that they didn’t function well when they worked virtually, and therefore will head back to their offices after COVID. Other offices may feel on the fence about this question. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned quite well from home during the pandemic and will be more than happy to work from home after the pandemic. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned relatively well during the pandemic but would find it useful to have a combination of a combination of in-person work and working at home. However, especially for offices that are on the fence—particularly offices that are in areas where the only way to get to the location (or by far the easiest/most convenient way to get to the office) is by car, perhaps environmental considerations could also play into the thought process in such a decision.

For as much as some of us may like to think of key decisions on the environment as some far-away thing for people in some distant land to deal with, the reality is that all of us as individuals, as well as our bosses as individuals, have a role to play in taking care of the environment. And, perhaps in cases where offices functioned well while working virtually during the pandemic, the decision to continue working from home after the pandemic can be more than an office functionality decision, but an environmental one, too.



Coronavirus Update From New York City: May 20, 2021

This week, there is some big news within my family. My younger brother graduated from college! I am so incredibly proud of him and all the other students who overcame the challenges of education during COVID in order to graduate from college.

A major part of that graduation weekend involved doing some things that I had not done since before COVID, and as such was a little terrifying at first.

For example, the festivities surrounding the graduation itself made me a little nervous at first, I must admit. In particular, the large gathering of people out and about (with the graduates and their families) after the ceremony. I acknowledge that said nerves were not the most rational, for there were a combination of factors that made my catching COVID remote–not a single student present at the graduation festivities has tested positive for COVID symptoms (my brother’s college did COVID testing twice a week), not a single person present would be present if they had tested positive for COVID, the activities were all outdoors, I was wearing my mask, and I am fully vaccinated. However, sometimes nerves are not rational.

Walking through a rather busy diner after my brother’s ceremony in order to use a restroom also made me a little nervous. Between the number of people in the diner and the fact that I’m not sure the diner had good ventilation, my fears related to being in that diner (if even for a brief time) might be somewhat more rational than being at the graduation festivities. Still, between my mask-wearing, my being fully vaccinated, and the fact that I was only in the diner for a short time (only for a couple of minutes), I’m still one to think that my chances of catching COVID in that diner were extremely low.

I guess the moral of these two stories from last weekend is that it is not abnormal for us to struggle with fears, even fears that might not make the most sense, due to what we’ve been through with COVID-19 in the past year. It may feel freakish to struggle with some of those basic activities, especially if we have friends or family members who aren’t freaking out about similar activities. However, we are anything but freakish.

In other good news, COVID in my part of New York City continues to be on the decline–now down to under 3% in my zip code.[1] Most of all, a much smaller percentage of both hospital beds and ICU beds are being taken up by COVID patients in the hospital near where I live–15% of adult hospital beds and 31% of ICU beds.[2] Hopefully COVID will continue to go in the right direction where I am.

I hope others are well and safe!



Mental Health and the Coronavirus

As some readers might happen to know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Given that fact, I think it is time for me to talk about something that I probably should’ve covered on my blog long ago: the topic of mental health and the Coronavirus.

That being said, given the trauma that some of us have experienced and may be continuing to experience from the sicknesses and losses of family members, coworkers, neighbors, and or/friends, the topic of mental health and the coronavirus is still very relevant, I think.

I am not a mental health expert. However, my own experiences, the experiences of family and friends over the past year, and the stories I have heard about other similarly traumatic events have taught me a few things that I think a lot of us should keep in mind going forward:

  1. Different people deal with the same challenging, even traumatic, events in different ways. Each person’s body is different, and each person’s mental health state is different. As such, each of us is going to deal with events like what happened in the past year in a different way.
  2. It is not abnormal for some of us to deal with phobias related to a traumatic event long after that event is over. On a personal level, due to terrorist attacks involving airplanes on September 11, 2001, I’ve had a fear of low-flying airplanes ever since that day. Even though we are nearly twenty years removed from that dreadful day, it is a fear that has never gone away, and it’s a fear that may very well stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m not sharing this story to freak people out, but to instead remind us that we should not be freaked out if some of us may likewise grapple with phobias after other traumatic events, including what we’ve been through with COVID during the past fourteen months or so.
  3. Because of the difficulties (even traumas) some of us went through, it may require a little bit of patience with ourselves when we struggle emotionally do certain things for the first time since before things shut down as a result of COVID-19. I remember the hesitation I had when I took public transit for the first time since things shut down as a result of COVID, for example—there was definitely a bit of a mental barrier that I had to get through. Such will be the case for others of us, I’m sure. To make it more challenging emotionally as we sort out what things we can do (in spite of any fears we have) and what things we should avoid is the fact that COVID is still very much around and deadly—as a result, unvaccinated individuals, in particular, will need to continue acting with some level of caution.
  4. Dealing with the emotional strain of difficult events from the past year is not a linear process. For me, one of the biggest emotional strains was hearing the endless noise of hospital sirens as COVID was getting bad. There are still times that I come back to that moment and feel a little (or a lot) emotional. There is sometimes this expectation that after a certain point, we should be “over” such difficult events. That expectation is, to use a favorite President Biden expression, malarkey.
  5. There is immense emotional and mental value to in-person connection with other people, even for many of us who are introverts. I’m an introvert myself, and I readily admit that the past year has shown me that, while things like Zoom and Google Hangouts are better than nothing, there is sometimes no substitute mentally and emotionally for in-person connection. Now, I am not against the precautions that needed to be done in order to protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus (if anything, I was for those precautions). But nevertheless, the past year has also shown many of us introverts that in-person connection is so important both emotionally and mentally.

These were a few of the major things that COVID-19 have taught me in terms of caring for mental health. That being said, if there are other lessons that we should learn from a mental health standpoint as a result of COVID-19, feel free to comment below!

additional advice on how to navigate through the pandemic mentally, and for learning about resources in the event that you are struggling to navigate through the challenges of COVID-19, consult the page that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has on mental health and COVID-19. If you don’t live in the United States, please consult the mental health resources for where you live.