By Albert J. Rizzi, M.Ed.
As we turn the final page on 2021 and open a new chapter on 2022, it’s my sincere hope that we all experience a new year full of inclusion and life-changing possibilities. While I am a pragmatic realist, planning for the best but preparing for the worst, I think this will be a very good year for the disability community.
You might be saying to yourself, “Last year sucked!” or “Good riddance to 2021!”, or “What makes you think 2022 will be any better?” You’re right, 2021 sucked for many reasons. However, the optimist in me believes every dark cloud has its silver lining.
First, our country’s institutions held together after the debacle on January 6th. This is not a red state/blue state thing. This is a red, white, and blue thing. Whatever our political differences, I hope we can agree that sedition or insurrection should not be employed when our political candidate loses an election. So, I will argue that no Constitutional crisis and the fact that our country endured was good.
Based on my sense of things, the current political focus in Washington, D.C. will be better for Americans in general, but more pointedly, for those of us who happen to also have disabilities. The infrastructure investments that were recently signed into law will “promote the general welfare” of all Americans and will be especially impactful for people with disabilities. Public transit, something that PWD disproportionally rely on, will see a boost of $39 billion. Hopefully, this has the potential for improving access to reliable transportation with fewer barriers or obstacles in our way.
Another $65 billion will improve the country’s digital infrastructure so high-speed internet can be available to more of us. That means PWD will be able to take advantage of telemedicine, giving us faster access to doctor’s appointments. The easier it is for us to make our appointments, the healthier we will be. Closing the digital divide between the general public and the disability community will undoubtedly advance academic enrichment for PWD but it will also open opportunities for gainful and meaningful employment. Bridging the digital divide throughout America will allow PWD to take advantage of working from home remotely, which is gaining momentum in America’s workforce. Instead of being taxing dependents reliant on public assistance and Social Security payments, more of us can become fully employed, independent taxpayers.
Now, as is typical in D.C., what is being proposed and offered as solutions to problems plaguing America is not perfect. Some things that would have helped the disability community specifically were removed from the legislation that Biden signed. Billions that would have helped give care to older Americans and those with disabilities did not make it through, but this is something that we can fight for on another day.
Now to address the elephant in the room. COVID-19 has made it all the way through 2020, 2021, and it seems it will be a persistent pest as we step into 2022. Every time we turn around, there is a new COVID variant that we must worry about or another spike in infections, leading to more hospitalizations, which puts stress on hospitals and medical staff. Like many, we all have people who we know and care about who got COVID. We have no idea when this pandemic will end. I get it. However, if there can be a silver lining to this pandemic tale, it is this: as a society, we see that it’s possible to perform many jobs from the comforts of our home offices instead of traveling into corporate office settings. Prior to the pandemic, only 3% of America’s workforce did so from home remotely, when in fact nearly 50% of all choices or options for employment could have, and most importantly, have been done from home for nearly 2 years now.
This is great news for the disability community. The excuse that many employers once used when denying employment to people who have disabilities was that it was simply impractical and unworkable to offer a work-from-home accommodation. Millions of Americans over the last two years proved that it is possible, and for many reasons, it’s preferable to offer the flexibility of working remotely. The pandemic has made the world reconsider and rethink how work gets done. This is a huge opportunity for PWD!
One of the most obvious lessons that 2021 provided in my opinion can be summed up in a quote from Albert Einstein, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” The past does not dictate the future but that is not to say that we shouldn’t learn from it. Sure, it took catastrophic events to get us to this point. Indeed, maybe we even have to look past our protective masks and look a little more deliberately to find the good things, but the fact remains that they are there when we are ready to see them.
That requires faith. Loosely defined, faith is believing in something that you cannot see or even touch. It also requires hope, which I define as desiring something good and expecting that it will happen. Faith and hope that things will get better for the disability community are vital to our continued advancements as a community, and I dare say, as a global society. Wallowing in the miseries of the past isn’t good for anyone. Without faith and hope, what are we left with?
Now, we can’t only have faith and hope and idly stand by and wait for something to happen. More immediate progress also requires that we act too. That means we must advocate on behalf of ourselves and others. It also means that we have an obligation to call out things that are wrong. It can be uncomfortable to do so, but how do you think we got to where we are today? There were brave people before us who had faith and hope and took action to advocate for legislation. It took others to make the case to expand opportunities for workers who happen to have a disability because it was not only the right thing to do, but it was good for business.
My Blind Spot has been doing this for almost 20 years. As long as I continue to breathe, we will combine faith and hope with action. We will look for silver linings as we continue to press for authentic inclusion of Ability in both our social and corporate cultures and demand universal accessibility and usability within digital communications, information, and platforms. We will fight for the opportunities and rights of everyone who is now, or who will soon be, a member of the disability community. We will celebrate the wins whenever we get them and learn from any losses that occur along the way.
If you have questions about how to make 2022 better for you or your organization, all you need to do is contact me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s see what we can do to make sure that this year is definitely better than the last.