Washington, D.C. skyline with highways and monuments.

COVID-19 as Disability Interest Convergence?

By Jasmine E. Harris

Some have suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic could be a moment of what critical race theorist Derrick Bell called “interest convergence,” where majority interests align with those of a minority group to create a critical moment for social change.

It would be easy to think that interests indeed have converged between disabled and nondisabled people in the United States. From education to employment, modifications deemed “unreasonable” became not only plausible but streamlined with broad support.

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person walking away from a surgical mask lying on the ground.

The Mask-Optional DEI Initiative

By Matt Dowell

Recently, I remotely attended a mask-optional, in-person meeting where campus leaders proudly proclaimed that DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is my college’s “top priority.”

As a disabled faculty member who writes about disability access in higher education, I found myself considering how to make sense of such a statement — how seriously to take such statements, how much to care that such statements are being made.

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US map made of many people with empty space in the center that resembles a single spiky corona virion.

The Institutionalization Missing Data Problem

By Doron Dorfman and Scott Landes

One of the most important lessons from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic needs to be about health surveillance of marginalized health populations — indeed, “who counts depends on who is counted.”

As disability scholars who use data and empirical tools in our work, we want to remind decision makers that advancing just law and policy depends on the systematic collection of accurate data. Without such data, our laws and policies will be fundamentally incomplete.

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London, England, UK, January 22nd 2022, Long covid symptoms sign on pharmacy shop window UK.

Mobilizing Long COVID Awareness to Better Support People with Acquired Disabilities

By Marissa Wagner Mery

Long COVID exposes an often-unacknowledged facet of disability: that one is far more likely to develop a disability than be born with one.

Estimates suggest that, at present, approximately 10 – 20 million Americans are now afflicted with the array of debilitating symptoms we now call Long COVID, which include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog.”

The upswell of advocacy and awareness around Long COVID should be mobilized to call attention to and address the challenges faced by newly-disabled adults, particularly with respect to employment.

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Gavel and stethoscope.

Long COVID and Physical Reductionism

By Leslie Francis and Michael Ashley Stein

Like plaintiffs with other conditions lacking definitive physiological markers, long COVID plaintiffs seeking disability anti-discrimination law protections have confronted courts suspicious of their reports of symptoms and insistent on medical evidence in order for them to qualify as “disabled” and entitled to statutory protection.

We call this “physical reductionism” in disability determinations. Such physical reductionism is misguided for many reasons, including its failure to understand disability socially.

Ironically, these problems for plaintiffs may be traced to amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that were intended to expand coverage for plaintiffs claiming disability discrimination. Three provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) are appearing especially problematic for long COVID patients in the courts.

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HVAC tech wearing mask and gloves changing an air filter

Providing Clean Air in Indoor Spaces: Moving Beyond Accommodations Towards Barrier Removal

By Jennifer Bard

One of the most persistently frustrating aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as currently applied to schools and workplaces, is its emphasis on the eligibility of qualifying individuals for accommodation, rather than on population-based removal of barriers to participation.

This individualized approach has always been an uncomfortable fit, given the reality of changes in physical function throughout the lifespan, and is a particularly unsatisfying model for the collective threat of COVID-19, a novel virus that has not only caused at least a million deaths in the United States, but is likely to trigger a variety of disabling sequelae in many (perhaps most) of those who recover.

So far, however, there is mounting evidence that individuals who seek to protect themselves from infection with COVID-19 in school or in the workplace (very much including those who work in schools) are going to have to do based on their individual susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or to being disproportionately affected by an infection.

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Open front door.

Re-Imagining Work in the Post-Pandemic Era: An Arendtian Lens

By Xochitl L. Mendez

The coronavirus pandemic changed the world in countless ways, and for a moment it challenged the pre-pandemic separation of — in Hannah Arendt’s terms — the Private and the Public. To Arendt, the Public is defined as the sole realm where a human can live in full, as a person integral and part of a community as an equal. Being human is only fully procurable by the presence that a person achieves when acting among others. Contrastingly, to Arendt the Private is a shadowy space without the sufficient worth to merit “being seen or heard” by others. The Private is also the place where toiling with the endless necessities of providing for one’s body resides.

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged this separation. As many people and their loved ones fell seriously ill, an overwhelming portion of our nation found themselves for the first time living a struggle that previously was familiar mainly to those who suffer from chronic medical conditions. Millions were locked down and marooned at home — a radically novel experience to many, yet one that is sadly commonplace to a considerable number of individuals who live with disability and illness every day. Large portions of the workforce found themselves restricted to working remotely — a reality habitual to individuals who lack access to the workplace. All of these experiences suddenly stopped being private experiences — they became critical concerns discussed by a citizenry of equals, worth “being seen or heard” by others, and demanding policy and political action.

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3d render, abstract fantasy cloudscape on a sunny day, white clouds fly under the red gates on the blue sky. Square portal construction.

Workplace Accommodations in a Post-COVID Era

By Scott J. Schweikart

The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has opened the door to new opportunities to improve our society. For example, office changes brought about by the pandemic — e.g., remote working or telecommuting — made life easier for many workers with disabilities. However, as more of the workforce begins returning to the office, there are notable examples of employers pushing back on the increased accommodations realized during the pandemic, indicating that some gains in accommodation will continue to be hard fought. In an effort to rid our society of harmful inequities, the struggle for these rights has important value.

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Female freelance programmer in modern headphones sitting in wheelchair and using computers while coding web game at home.

Injustice Anywhere: The Need to Decouple Disability and Productivity

By Brooke Ellison

There is a profound need to deconstruct and actively reconstruct the interpretation of disability as it is currently understood.

The current framing of disability as inability — whether an inability to be employed or otherwise — has utterly failed not only people with disabilities, but also the communities in which they live.

This perception of disability is a relic of attitudinal and policy structures put into place by people who do not live with disability themselves: people who may have been ignorant to the virtues that living with disability engenders.

Current calls for attention to a disability bioethics or a disability epistemology have heralded not only highlighting, but also actively promoting, the qualities, leadership skills, and valuable character traits associated with surviving and thriving in a world fundamentally not set up for one’s own needs.

Before any meaningful movement can be made when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities — whether in the form of workplace accommodations, flexible work settings, recruitment practices, or limitations on earnings — the underlying assumption about the value of their presence in the workforce needs to change.

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Close-up of hands in white gloves pulling curtain away

Fostering Mentally Healthier Workplaces via Disability Advocacy: COVID-Era Strategies and Successes

By Zachary F. Murguía Burton

Can employers foster mentally healthier workplaces via theater?

Here, I discuss a mental health advocacy and inclusivity initiative built around a theatrical production, The Manic Monologues, with a particular focus on pandemic-era efforts to foster awareness, empathy, and connection around mental health challenges.

These efforts aim to promote healthier and more inclusive (and, by extension, more productive) workplaces in the face of the ongoing, escalating global mental health crisis.

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