COVID-19 – is online more accessible?

Is the lockdown really more accessible for disabled people, or is it just differently accessible?

I’ve read a lot of disabled people talking about how with the lockdown there are no access barriers, but I’ve also been thinking for a while that actually there are access barriers – they’re just different. It’s easy to generalise and say that because everything is happening online, it’s all accessible, but that’s not necessarily the case. As a full-time wheelchair user, things are far more accessible to me when they’re not sited in inaccessible venues – but the things I gain through a lack of physical access barriers, I lose in other ways.

After toying with this for a while, I read a great post from Tito Bone about access. Tito is right, and expanded on what I’ve wondered for a while – so you should click through and read their whole post now… I’ll wait…

Right, welcome back

I worked from home (hospital) last summer, while working for a major TV project. I skyped meetings, and I did all my work from a hospital bed, because they were so willing to adapt their processes to meet my access requirements. I have multi-hour routines necessary to keep my body going. I am a full-time wheelchair user. I struggle with pain and limited energy. For me, working online was the more accessible option then,

But is it now? When we went into lockdown, most of my work was from home anyway, but more and more was forced online – and I’m struggling. Computer input is an increasing access barrier for me – my fingers are slower and more contracted than they used to be. I can’t dictate effectively. I struggle with using the laptop with positioning, and struggle with typing long documents on my phone.

I am hard of hearing. I can cope day to day, if people have accents I recognise and speech patterns I can predict, without trouble. I struggle more with lower range voices. On Zoom, I struggle a lot more. Sound and lips don’t match up, the detail isn’t there, I can’t rely on movement and body language.

For Deaf people, being told that everything is more accessible because it’s on Zoom must be galling. Without captions and/or a BSL interpreter as needed Zoom is unlikely to be more accessible than in-person support, and might well be less accessible with less access to lip-reading.

I also struggle to read people in general. Facial expressions and body language are a massive challenge for me, and one that’s a lot harder over Zoom. As someone neurodivergent I actually rely on really obvious body language to interpret what people are saying – and that gets lost.

This combination is a challenge. I love remote working, I love using my bed as my office. It’s far better for pressure sore risk as well as for comfort. However, it’s not the solution. The ideal solution is, of course, adequate positioning setups for me to work anywhere – therefore reducing that barrier immediately.

In an ideal world I’d combine in-person and remote working as I needed to. I’d try to go into the office for more detailed, focussed work projects, and I’d stay home when I didn’t need to. If I’m writing articles or reading scripts, I might as well not take up office space while doing so. I am lucky enough to have my own bedroom, so I can work from there. If I didn’t have that, this would be a far less accessible set-up, and disabled people, being more likely to live in poverty.

Being forced to do everything from home, via computer isn’t more accessible for everyone. D/deaf people, visually impaired / blind people, some neurodivergent people – all might struggle more with online work. Although my hands aren’t bad at all, they’re increasingly struggling with this world – so it must be even more challenging than others.

To my D/deaf and disabled friends – please stop saying “this is more accessible” when you mean “this is more accessible to me”, and please start listening to everyone saying it isn’t for them.

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