Post-COVID employment changes that will benefit everyone, but especially people with disabilities

Who wants to “go back to normal” when “normal” wasn’t so hot anyway?

Work from home setting with laptop on cluttered kitchen table with bright green pillows
Photo by Djurdjica Boskovic on Unsplash

Things that will definitely change (or have changed already)

Several work-based behaviors have been immediately, and possibly permanently, impacted by COVID-19.

WFH is here to stay

No doubt about it — between social distancing requirements in physical workplaces when they re-open and the demonstrated reality that the work-world did not implode when mass WFH began almost three months ago. Requesting work from home no longer holds the stigma it once did.

Low/No touch objects in offices

One thing that drives me nuts about the ADA is there are exactly *ZERO* regulations for standard internal doors.

  • Outer doors? The requirement is no opening mechanisms that require grasping or turning. Interior doors can have all kinds of obnoxious and unusable handles that are effectively germ depositories.
  • Printers/Copiers that are software controlled and print automatically by scanning a badge
  • Traffic signals that don’t require pushing buttons

Telemedicine means fewer actual trips to the doctor’s office and thus less time away from work

People with disabilities typically make more trips for medical care than people without pre-existing conditions. A trip to the doctor’s office for me usually eats a minimum of half a day — travel, find parking, waiting room time where hopefully there is Wi-fi, and you can get *something* done, actual appointment, followup with lab, pharmacy, x-ray, etc., travel back to the office/home. Shifting half of my non-invasive doctor’s appointments to telemedicine and email means I can save at least 30 hours a year — and that’s 30 hours less I am away from work. Pre-COVID, I had to push my physicians to do a video call, and those in small practices didn’t offer them at all. Now they are frequently offering video visits first, before asking if I want to come into the office.

Office open floor plans are toast

Frankly, this one is none too soon for me. Open floor plans are abjectly awful for people with a wide variety of disabilities and non-disabling work preferences. Lights, noise, difficulty finding people, smells, allergies, furniture getting moved into wheelchair clearance areas all make open floor plans a discriminatory experience for people with disabilities. There is nothing good to stay about open floor plans. It is difficult bordering on the impossible to remain socially distanced when working in an open floor plan layout. Standard projections for open floor plans are 25 % maximum occupancy when people are allowed to return to work. Expect a return to cubicles with high walls that can be disinfected (no cloth surfaces) or maybe even closed-door offices with air filters under some circumstances.

People will be banned for coming into the office while ill

Everyone has worked in an office where some influential leader has commented, “Look at Suzy’s commitment — she came in even though she was deathly ill.” Pre-COVID, coming in when sick was a sign of sacrifice. Leaders who praised this type of behavior set a very bad example that encouraged this behavior to be repeated by others.

Better Exercise/Yoga at Home Options

Yes, people with disabilities exercise. Yoga, while seated, is actually a thing. But rather than having to travel and change clothes to participate, there is now a slew of service providers who have migrated their offerings online, and the employee can exercise and do yoga at home. Again this is a timesaver and will lead to happier and healthier employees, which is always a good thing.

Things that might change

Some issues will take longer to see if they will change as a result of COVID.

Better arguments for paid sick time and Medicare for all

Not everyone has paid sick time. Especially for hourly jobs, the lack of paid sick time frequently encourages people to come in even when they are ill because they are financially punished for staying at home. We saw this prior COVID with several food-borne illnesses that likely involved worker transmission at Chipotle, and cruise ships are notorious for this as well. A society committed to everyone’s good health requires paid sick time, similar to the SFPLO in San Francisco.

More focus on mental health?

One-third of Americans are showing signs of clinical depression under the current conditions. Anxiety is on a hockey stick slope up, and the US wasn’t prepared to deal with the levels of mental health issues we had before COVID made it that much worse. The stress caused by isolation is leading to higher rates of abuse and addiction relapses, overdoses, and deaths. Economic devastation is contributing as well — a study after the 2007 recession found that for every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, there is a more than 1.5 % increase in the suicide rate.

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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