The rise in work-from-home opportunities has been a huge boost to the disabled and chronically ill communities. Accessible jobs are on the increase, free education offerings abound and on-line opportunities to connect with others are growing. People are increasingly open to expanding their networks and the sense of community is growing as increasing numbers of people connect beyond traditional boundaries.
As someone who is often housebound by Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, I feel as if I have got a full life back since ‘Lockdown’ (medical issues aside. If you have a chronic pain condition, having limited medical access hugely increases pain levels. I’ve had X-rays and essential Bruxism-related dental work delayed and know many individuals who have had other appointments cancelled. Worse, I have read about disabled people as young as 16 getting DNR notices). Other than that, my world has become enabled as the enabled find their everyday routines are disabled.
However, just as I was becoming elated at the opportunities I now had access to, I met stumbling blocks. It seems as if whenever inclusivity arrives, exclusivity follows. Would I like to connect over Zoom? Not really as my phone doesn’t have space for more apps because I am on a low budget. Can I accept voice messages? Not ideally, as they’re bandwidth heavy, clog my phone up and – in the past – I wouldn’t have been able to afford to listen to them. Would I like to come along to a 9am meeting? Not really, because my medication means I’m in intense pain until at least 1pm.
This got me thinking about accessibility in the virtual world. We are currently at the birth of a new level of virtual connection. Opportunities, including many that have existed for decades, are now finally being used en-masse.
Work-from-home, conference calls as standard and arts screenings online are just three that could have been adopted as easily in the year 2000 as 2020. So why did it take twenty years for these things to become available to the (online) majority?
We have the opportunity to create a new, more inclusive world. Let’s not mess it up by taking an exclusionary approach. I can’t speak for every disabled and chronically ill person, but here are 10 things that immediately come to mind that will ensure more people have access to whatever new worlds we create:
- Turn the Subtitles On – also the title of a child literacy campaign. Using subtitling as standard will allow you to reach more d/Deaf people.
- Avoid video calls unless you have things you need to show each other. Someone who is chronically ill is highly likely to feel self-conscious if they are bed-bound and unwashed; and having to get dressed for a 30 minute meeting wastes ‘spoons’ that could be spent on working (or playing).
- Include alternative text for images, particularly event invitations. This makes your online events more accessible to people with visual issues.
- Be colour blind aware: ‘Red and green should never be seen’ as they can blur into one for some colour-blind people. Hire an accessible design consultant for guidance.
- Be chrono-flexible. The 9am-5pm routine makes no sense in a global world. Create truly flexible and agile working, rather than half-way measures such as ‘start between 7am-10am. If everyone could choose their own hours and we lost the ‘Owlism’ in a ‘Lark’ led society, more organisations could go global with ease, and employees wouldn’t have to risk their health to succeed in the workplace. If I start work pre-1pm, I’m likely to be wiped out by migraine for 2-3 days. If I start at 1pm, I can still work effectively at 4am (taking breaks for work and play: self-care is community care, and essential for health whether you’re enabled or disabled.) It is not lazy to find meetings a struggle pre-lunchtime.
- Avoid suggesting ‘meetings after lockdown’ as a future step. It means anyone housebound knows they will be excluded, which can potentially sap motivation.
- Market compassionately: Don’t bombard people with emails after signing up for your event. Many people are stressed by a flow of messages, some feel anxiety every time their phone pings. Keep marketing responsible, targeted, efficient and simple to make it more inclusive.
- Do not use flashing lights or effects that could trigger epilepsy.
- Give people time for regular screen breaks. This isn’t just useful for those who find digital engagement triggers health issues. It’s also good practice for everyone.
- Consider cost. If something won’t work on a cheap phone or old computer and you aren’t providing the bandwidth and hardware, don’t assume everyone can chat for hours over streaming software. Wi-Fi is still not universal. If in doubt, opt for the solution that requires the minimum bandwidth, time and equipment.
These are a just a few ways that we can ensure the virtual world is more inclusive than the material world. Together, we can create a future that is accessible to all.
What would make the virtual world more accessible to you?
You can connect with Emily directly via the links below:
LinkedIn: Emily Goss
Emily found success in writing at a young age; a published poet by 18, and with her first short story following just a few years later, she has been shortlisted for prizes in both fiction and non-fiction. Emily started out editing the student newspaper at Loughborough and moved on to creating marketing campaigns and writing for huge global companies when she relocated to London. Alongside writing books, film and radio scripts, publishing articles and launching magazines, her repertoire also includes copywriting and creating content syndication networks for radio, press and live venues.
Emily’s true passion, lies in nature and sustainability and she has proved to be talented in this arena too. Emily helped to run the Brighton Science Festival, White Night and Latitude. She has created an online space to share sustainability stories, along with nature research, eco-crafting ideas, photos and folklore called GrowEatGift.com.