Much has been said, and rightly so, about how far we've come in eradicating discrimination against people with disabilities. But COVID-19 showed us just how far we still have to go.
For more than 30 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has reformed American workplaces to be more "reasonably" accommodating to people with disabilities. But when COVID-19 roared into our collective consciousness, and disrupted countless lives, it had a particularly hard impact on people with disabilities.
There was a 500% increase in search impressions for web and video conferencing software in the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic. As meetings became virtual (via Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams), it took months for transcription services to catch up, and deaf or hard of hearing individuals struggled to stay engaged—and more blatant disability discrimination became harder to detect.
There was a 500% increase in search impressions for web and video conferencing software in the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even when in-person interactions were possible, the necessary wearing of face masks made lip-reading impossible (though the introduction of clear face masks towards the tail end of the pandemic was a welcome modification).
But progress is being made. Zoom is working towards automated closed captioning available during video-meetings. TikTok, 2021's favorite (or least-favorite, depending on how much time it has sucked out of your life) new app, has already introduced automated subtitles in its short, catchy videos.
As American workplaces spring back to life in the coming months, employers need to educate their employees on the continued need for engagement of disabled individuals, and start (or continue) to utilize accessibility features in and out of the workplace. After all, with as much as 20% of workers in the U.S. reporting a disability of some kind, smart employers will embrace the diversity of disability. Disability and ADA discrimination isn't just illegal, it's bad business.
The Employment Law Center of Maryland represents individuals with disabilities in every Maryland federal, state, and administrative court. Reach out to us today for a free, confidential consultation with a Maryland disability/ADA discrimination lawyer.