Insights: COVID-19 and its impact on people with disabilities

While there has been nearly wall to wall coverage of COVID-19 in the media, one voice has been notably missing: that of people who live with disabilities. In order to amplify the voices of those with disabilities, our community participated in a brief survey about how COVID-19 is affecting us. In this edition of Fable Insights, as a member of this community, I will highlight some of that data, and some of the anonymous quotes provided by our community members. We hope that this perspective will provide you with some food for thought about how the 19% of North Americans who live with disabilities are having their lives changed by COVID-19.

 “The globe is slowly shutting down and isolating us even more than we already are. The mentally disabled and physically disabled have always been isolated in some respects, and now are afraid of becoming even more so.”

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‘Flattening the curve’ is vital context

Full access to data has always been understood as a vital right by people with disabilities. Today, it is apparent that access to data can be a matter of life and death. How is it possible to decide what an appropriate level of action might be, without access to local maps of community spread? How can anyone decide if the government is making the right policy decisions, without access to the graph of the curve, and being able to understand how a set of actions will change that graph?

“As charts depicting the spread of Coronavirus and modelling how to flatten the curve are seen and discussed worldwide with blind and visually impaired people largely excluded from the conversation, we are starkly reminded that non-visual access to data is vital to our equality and well-being.”

Fortunately, there are companies and organizations who have taken the time to make a flatten the curve model available through sound (shout out to Desmos). For folks who are visually impaired, this can be an essential tool to understand today’s situation. Check out the video below to see Ka explore a sonification of the ‘flatten the curve’ concept. Pro tip: You can follow Ka on LinkedIn to keep up to date on the work different people are doing to make COVID-19 data more accessible. 

We need laughter, too

Men wearing masks sit around a table playing poker, betting packs of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Caption: Day 1 without casinos - Check raise 3 rolls and a sanitizer

In the Internet age, memes have become an important part of how people community. Today, they are one of the strategies that people are using to relieve anxiety and see the lighter side of things. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities are left out of this content entirely. This leaves only the unrelentingly serious and frightening messages from mainstream news. 

“A lot of people are spreading a lot of really positive/funny memes. While memes lacking alt-text don’t normally bother me, in this time of anxiety, I feel like I could really use the boost of some humour or something positive.”

Full access to data has always been understood as a vital right by people with disabilities. Today, it is apparent that access to data can be a matter of life and death. How is it possible to decide what an appropriate level of action might be, without access to local maps of community spread? How can anyone decide if the government is making the right policy decisions, without access to the graph of the curve, and being able to understand how a set of actions will change that graph?  

The financial impact of COVID-19

“My husband works and is visually impaired and currently his job is closed. Right now we are ok, but who knows down the road and we have 3 children.”

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