Will COVID-19 Adaptations Create a More Disability-Inclusive World?

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on August 24, 2020 # COVID-19, Lifestyle

By guest blogger Lauren Presutti

I have always been a fan of Charles Darwin. In my sixth-grade biology class, adaptation was taught as a concept that grew into Darwin’s theory of natural selection – but for me, it had a different meaning. It was the first time I learned there was a name for everything I had always done since birth. Growing up with a neuromuscular disease meant that adaptation was built into every part of my existence. As a lifetime wheelchair-user, I learned at a young age that adaptation was a critical part of my ability to fit into an able-bodied world that wasn’t designed for me.coffee in front of computer zoom call

COVID-19 has made drastic changes to our world over the last several months, and the world has adopted my intrinsic sense of adaptation at large. This pandemic is arguably one of the most significant periods in history where people have had to rethink the way they do ordinary things. Globally, people who previously could access their environments with ease suddenly became “disabled” in some ways from the life they knew. Our collective response was to adapt, innovate, and revolutionize the way we operate in the COVID-19 environment. Rather than sitting back complacently, we rapidly created new ways to utilize technology and implement strategies to create a more accessible world.

As a result, this pandemic has the potential to add new perspectives and urgency to a number of long-standing disability issues. Disabled people – myself included – have advocated for accommodations throughout our lives to help us overcome barriers. And now, some of these accommodations are considered normal practice.

For example, delivery options skyrocketed across companies and service providers. It was common practice for establishments to offer services like curbside pick-up and other accommodations to make access easier. This may seem like a small thing, but when it is challenging to access your community because of a disability-related barrier, chronic health condition, lack of wheelchair-accessible transportation, or other struggles, small adaptations like this go a long way.

With the rise of the pandemic, flexible work arrangements have now mainstreamed telecommuting. These employment opportunities have been life-changing. When in the office, people with disabilities can struggle for various reasons during normal business hours – whether because of a health condition that requires flexible scheduling, lack of caregiving-support during the day, difficulty with transportation, or any other number of disability-related concerns.

Also, connecting via video chat has become essential since we no longer have access to specific venues – whether because of a global pandemic requiring social distancing or lack of disabled-friendly access – has become a no-brainer. Concerts, classes, church services, and other public events that weren’t always accessible to people with disabilities for various reasons are now being streamed online. People within the disabled community who couldn’t participate before now have the opportunity to do so.

If we as a society are committed to maintaining these inclusive spaces, we must consider the ramifications of reverting to old traditions in the future post-pandemic world. If we abandon the creative ways that we have included people over the last several months, we will be regressing in our social justice efforts. There are over 1 billion people in the world, with some type of disability who could benefit from keeping pandemic-related arrangements in place. A countless number of other demographic groups could also benefit from accommodations like remote work arrangements (consider parents without childcare during the workday and low-income individuals who may lack reliable transportation).

As a global community, we have become experts in rethinking access. Darwin’s theories of adaptation and “survival of the fittest” are more prevalent now than ever because our COVID-19 practices have allowed more people to fit into our global environment than ever before. We must continue adapting as our world evolves and continue accommodating those with limitations, so they have equal opportunities. Abandoning our inclusive practices in the future post-pandemic world would perpetuate the oppression caused by ability privilege and push those with disabilities back on the sidelines. As a wheelchair-user with a neuromuscular disease – and also a licensed therapist and active community member – I finally have the rest of the world adapting alongside me. It’s about time.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Lauren Presutti is a psychotherapist and advocate for individuals and families affected by disabilities of all types. Presutti Counseling provides mental health services while Presutti Advocacy provides consultation and advocacy support services. Born with Muscular Dystrophy and using a wheelchair throughout her life, Lauren is passionate about helping others overcome barriers and reach their fullest potential. Lauren also enjoys writing, speaking, and providing education on subjects relating to mental health and disability advocacy.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.