How COVID-19 Is Shining a Light on Ableism

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by Eleanor Bird |

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Society doesn’t make it easy for people with disabilities and health conditions, including in the workplace.

Historically, people with disabilities have struggled to hold down jobs. People with pulmonary hypertension (PH) rarely work full time, as it can be physically demanding, particularly when taking into account a lengthy commute.

It can be extremely frustrating for people with chronic illnesses who are mentally capable of providing good work, but limited physically. For many of us living with long-term conditions, being in an office five days a week was a massive barrier to the kind of career we wanted, and it made it hard to financially support ourselves.

Before the pandemic, a big part of the problem was a lack of remote work opportunities. Many companies weren’t set up to support working remotely, which is something I encountered and struggled with in the past.

The issue extended beyond the workplace to the centers of higher education. In the past, students with disabilities often asked for lecture materials to be made available online. In many cases, those requests were turned down in favor of face-to-face interaction — which is fine for the able-bodied.

Enter COVID-19.

Today, people are working, learning, and teaching from home all over the world. While some have faced challenges (dodgy Wi-Fi, for example), there are countless examples of companies and university students actually thriving in this “new normal.”

For the past few months, everyone at my company has been working from home, and it’s working better than anyone expected. Access to communications applications such as Zoom and Slack has made me feel connected and in touch with my team. We’re told that productivity is at an all-time high!

Companywide discussions also have occurred to talk about incorporating remote working into company protocols long-term. It isn’t just my company doing this. Companies across the globe are reassessing how they work going forward. As it turns out, flexible remote working (and learning) work well for many people.

Of course, this is slightly infuriating as someone who has championed working remotely for a while. Many in the chronic illness community are rightly outraged that it took a global pandemic for this change to occur. But I am glad we are seeing a shift.

Hopefully, from this moment on we will see organizations and educational institutions be much more attuned to what they can offer disabled employees and students via remote content and online engagement. It feels like we’re at a turning point in history. 

There aren’t many silver linings to COVID-19, but I’ll take them when and where they come.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


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