Online Options Give Power To People With Disabilities
By Grace Knight
The first time I ever did school remotely was in sixth grade when I was in the hospital for two weeks due to a CF exacerbation. School had always been an important part of my life and I didn’t want to fall behind just because my lungs needed some extra attention. My friend carried around a computer to every class and I would Skype in so I could still be present, even if I couldn’t be there in person. When I eventually got well my transition back to in-person school was pretty seamless since I hadn’t missed any class and was able to finish my assignments on time. From then on, I always Skyped into my classes whenever I was in the hospital. Years later I was completely knocked back by M. abscessus and finished my freshman year remotely from the hospital. I remember my advisor at the time being shocked that my professors were willing to work with me and allowed me to video-call into my presentations and lectures. She had never seen anyone do this before and was amazed at how effective it was. Having a virtual option was game-changing because I now had the power to keep up with my classmates no matter where CF took me.
Fast-forward to the age of COVID-19 with the majority of things now being online. I have just finished my first semester of law school, which operated under a hybrid model. We had two in-person classes and two online classes, but people had the option to go online whenever they wanted. The school installed a lot of equipment to make sure that the online classes were just as engaging as the in-person ones and that the online students were able to participate just as effectively as those attending the in-person classes. People often flipped between attending in-person and online classes and some people even exclusively attended online classes half-way through the semester because they just liked it better. It was nice being able to wake up and decide whether I wanted to go in-person or if I needed to stay home to take care of my body. It was comforting knowing that if I felt sick, I could still be present in class and wouldn’t fall behind.
At the beginning of the semester, I inquired about whether the school planned to keep the online option as accommodation for students after COVID-19. I knew how impactful it could be to people like me with chronic illnesses and I had hoped that they saw the value of it too. However, the school expressed that the online portion of classes was only available during COVID-19—after the threat was over they would no longer be offering an online option. I struggled with this answer. Why get rid of something that could easily benefit so many people with chronic illnesses? For me, having an online option has been the difference between me finishing a semester and having to take a leave from school. With many chronic illnesses, you can’t just turn them off because it’s “time for learning.” They prevail and flare up in the most inconvenient times and being able to do class next to your breathing treatments or even while you are doing them makes it possible to put your health first without falling behind.
The world has spent so much time and resources adapting for this virus, why let it all disappear when it can still benefit people after COVID-19 is long gone?
The impacts of this are far-reaching and can benefit even the general population. If someone has a cold, they won’t feel the need to come to work and expose everyone when they can just do their job online for that day. If fewer individuals show up to work sick, fewer viruses will spread throughout the workplace. Having an online option for work and school gives power to people who are sick. It gives them the ability to prioritize their health and the health of the people around them. This is a vital and revolutionary step towards leveling the playing field for the disabled population and for keeping Americans healthy so they can continue to be productive members of society. So many aspects of this pandemic have been devastating, but the evolution of online participation in every part of American life is one positive outcome. It would be a shame for it to end simply because COVID-19 has been overcome when there are so many ways it can continue to benefit the population, especially those with disabilities.
About the Author: Grace is a director for USACFA. She is 22 years old and was diagnosed with CF when she was a year and a half. She received her B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania and is now in law school at The University of Texas at Austin. She is empowered by writing about her own experience with CF and inspired by stories of other CF patients. She also enjoys running, biking, writing poetry, and playing the violin.