Podcast: Living With a Disability in the Virtual and Built World (Especially During a Pandemic)

By JoLynne Lyon | May 11, 2022

For a complete transcript of this episode, visit the podcast website. This episode is available on Apple Podcast, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Buzzsprout and other podcast platforms.

How much of your life in 2020 depended on the Internet? And if something didn’t depend on the Internet, it often required reliable transportation. Now, imagine the whole world shuts down, and you have some mountain-sized barriers to both using the web and getting around town. 

In this episode I interview Everette Bacon, an assistive technology specialist with Utah's  Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Sachin Pavithran, the current executive director of the US Access Board. I hope you’ll listen to the end, because Sachin really threw me a plot twist.

Like everyone else, blind people used websites and apps to grocery shop during the pandemic. But not all of those sites and apps were accessible--and picking those groceries up was also difficult without a car.  These limitations also meant fewer shopping choices and fewer delivery slots.

Some other topics: education for blind children over Zoom (the hands-on aspect disappeared during lockdown), COVID testing (much of it drive-through, which was a problem for people with disabilities who don't drive), plus COVID vaccination sign-ups, vaccination cards and other things officials and company leaders probably didn't think about when they made their COVID policies.

Many of these barriers saw at least some improvement over two years. In fact, when the whole world started telecommuting, the barriers to working from home were suddenly gone. It’s a privilege some had been asking for, for years: a way to go to work without the commute. Of course, you usually need accessible websites for that, as well as accessible digital documents. And those things are possible. But what about the barriers of transportation? Of access ramps and all those features that make it possible for people with disabilities to interact with their communities?

Pavithran cautions that people with disabilities shouldn't give up the fight for built, accessible spaces.  The Americans with Disabilities Act  made accessibility a requirement, and people with disabilities who had been invisible for most of history were able to join their communities to at least some degree. If they work and shop and do everything online, will they go back underground?

"There is a consequence that could pop up," he said. "Not right now, but maybe five years, 10 years from now, if that becomes the norm."


WebAIM offers accessibility training. Full disclosure: like UATP, WebAIM is part of the Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice.

WebAIM's WAVE tool allows users to scan any webpage for accessibility issues. While many accessibility features cannot be detected by an automated scan, WAVE can help users get a feel for whether the page's developer was keeping accessibility in mind.

This news report is one of many showing the difficulties people with disabilities had signing up for vaccines nationwide.

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