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Improving Accessibility for Parents


2/2/2022 | Mikhal Weiner

The pandemic has been many things, but it sure hasn’t been a picnic for parents. In fact, it’s been so hard on parents and guardians that a group of moms in a Boston suburb recently got together just to scream their frustrations into the abyss. In case you’re wondering how it’s going, the answer is not well. 

It’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially if you’ve been trying to both be a parent and survive, but there is actually an interesting silver lining to take note of, and that has to do with accessibility and dismantling ableist structures in educational settings. 

If you’re a parent or guardian without a disability, you may be annoyed with Zoom school and online PTA meetings. If you’re a parent with a disability or parenting a child with a disability, however, this shift into the virtual world is something you may have wanted for years.

Providing information and holding gatherings in a more accessible way is entirely possible, we just need to make it a priority. 

Think back to the before times. Can you imagine parent-teacher meetings being held over Zoom in order to allow for parents with physical disabilities to meet with their children’s teachers? I can’t. How about a world in which students with a hearing impairment could get a captioned video recording of a lesson spelling out their teacher’s words? Not likely, despite the continuous hard work of advocates nationwide. These days, with so much of the world going virtual, barriers have been collapsing all around. 

For some, this has come with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there’s a sense of frustration, even anger, with the knowledge that this kind of access could have been achieved long ago. Understanding that it’s only when able-bodied folks found themselves stranded that it all became feasible is a bitter pill to swallow. On the other hand, so much has opened up to those who would otherwise have been left out—museums, concerts, and, yes, educational events have all gone online. Not to mention the expansion of Telehealth options that allow patients to communicate with caregivers without leaving the house. These are all incredible strides (that should have been made long ago), and putting them aside as the world reopens is, at best, negligent. At worst, it’s discrimination.

What if the desire to return to how things were is inherently ableist and exclusionary?

Of course, the success has not been equal across the board. According to a recent study, many parents of students with disabilities have found that a lack of awareness of the needs of students with special needs, already present in the pre-COVID days, only widened the gaps between their kids and those who aren’t disabled. The success of online learning depended on the specific circumstances of the family, as well as the nature of a learner’s disability. A child with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder, for example, will navigate Zoom school differently than a child who has a vision impairment. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 3 million children living with a disability in 2019, and assuming that they all have had the same experience with online learning is more than a little audacious. 

Still, for some people with (or parents of students with) disabilities, the past few years have meant new horizons. New ways of working have opened up job opportunities, meaning improved prospects of income. Increased reliance on technology and online communication has allowed students with disabilities to attend classes they would otherwise have missed. Incredible new software allows educators and administrators to collaborate with parents on COVID safety and other crucial communication. 

Instead of hurrying back to 2019, maybe it’s not a bad idea to take stock of all we’ve added to our societal toolkit in the past few years. Now that we all know what it means to spend day after day stuck at home, whether we have a disability or not, maybe we can hold on to this insight. Muster some compassion. Leave the avenues open for as many folks as possible.

Mikhal Weiner is a freelance essayist and journalist originally from Israel, currently working and living in Brooklyn. Her writing has been featured by Newsweek, Real Simple, Parents Magazine, and Lilith, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @mikhalweiner

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

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