On day 6 of our advent calendar, we're reflecting more on how many changes that inadvertently made online and physical spaces more inclusive during the pandemic got rolled back.
The pandemic brought a surge in tech adaptations: online platforms for work and learning, telehealth services, and virtual social interaction, just to name a few. These changes were a lifeline for many people, especially for people with disabilities, embodying the true spirit of Tech for Good. However, as life returns to 'normal', we're seeing these inclusive technologies being scaled back without much regard for how much more accessible they made things.
It’s very similar to how physical spaces are reverting to how they used to be pre-pandemic. Remember the extra room in restaurants, the less crowded public spaces, the social distancing that offered comfort to those with anxiety or mobility challenges? These changes, originally intended to keep us safe, turned out to be a boon for accessibility and inclusion. Wheelchair users found it easier to navigate spaces, and people with social anxiety experienced less stress in public. These are just two concrete examples of many other ways pandemic measures increased the inclusivity of spaces.
But digital and physical inclusion benefits are being met with the same fate: they’re disappearing without much thought for those who benefitted from them. Unfortunately, the rollback of these measures parallels the broader issue of how quickly gains in accessibility can be overlooked or deemed non-essential.
Our question is this: did those businesses think about disabled people before rolling back these changes?
The changes that made our world more inclusive during the pandemic could have been used as the foundation for ongoing innovation and accessibility. So here’s a reality check for Tech for Good: if we could meet the challenge of creating inclusive tech solutions in times of crisis, why did we fail to carry that over to our ‘new normal’?
The trend of reducing accessibility options that were already implemented isn’t just unfair – it's a setback for inclusivity.