The Myth of Functionality: COVID-19 and the Vindication of Universal Design VSAELC2021

Presenter – Tai Tomasi

With the advent of Covid-19, we’ve entered a reality where the non-disabled population finds itself checking many of the same boxes disabled people have always checked. Your access to everything and quality-of-life activities constrained by someone else’s assessment of risk? Check. Incredulous that an employer would rather fire and rehire than figure out how to go remote? Check. Frustrated and overwhelmed by the steep learning curve inherent in transitioning everything under the sun online in our new physical-distancing reality? Check. Shamed for being where supposedly well-intentioned people insist you have no business being, looked at with disgust or fear for an involuntary bodily reaction, bored and depressed by your isolation from the community? Check, check, and infinite checks. Welcome to the fullest, loneliest club on Earth. Welcome, too, to the strongest possible argument for a commitment to truly universal design going forward. Covid-19 has driven home the point that functionality, productivity, and ability aren’t fixed, exclusive states; rather, they are evolving, changeable, context-dependent paradigms. Even as vaccines and other public health measures make headway in mitigating the pandemic, we must consider how to take this crucial lesson forward and commit to something better than, more inclusive than pre-pandemic normal.