Fighting for Accessibility and Inclusion During COVID-19

Fighting for Accessibility and Inclusion During COVID-19

I have joined forces with Manar Abbas to bring you this week’s article. Manar is a digital strategist in AdTech, leading innovative data-driven solutions at MiQ. Her personal story of immigrating to Canada at a young age catalyzed Manar’s commitment to meaningfully bridge the gap between the tech industry and inclusivity. She encourages curiosity and vulnerability as a means of fostering inclusive spaces. And today she is giving her insights on marginalized groups and supporting our community as we continue to live with COVID-19.

Like many of you, I’ve settled into my new shelter-in-place work routine, and the initial adjustment period has waned. Newfound hobbies have helped: coding, playing the piano, and writing. Still, cabin fever is a constant struggle for many of us, along with the fact that all of our relationships have essentially become long-distance.

However, as I consider my COVID-19 experience, it has served as another example of how privileged I am. The luxury of having a fully stocked pantry and a steady income isn’t the norm for everyone.

For vulnerable communities, quarantine has exacerbated the struggle for those with inadequate housing, and amplified the barriers to accessing resources, from consumer goods to healthcare. The spread of the pandemic has had a very dramatic impact on economically-disadvantaged communities and minority groups.

We initially saw this in the Great Toilet Paper Scare of 2020. In true meme-culture fashion, the COVID-19 toilet paper craze created a whirlwind of internet jokes centered around commodifying toilet paper.

With the hoarding eventually transcending toilet paper, individuals started stockpiling items from every aisle in the grocery store. Some even took advantage of the opportunity, like this Vancouver couple who sold price gouged Lysol wipes and made $100,000 doing it (a far cry from our reputation as Canadians… so the rest of us apologize).

The reality is, stockpiling isn’t an option for everyone; households with financial barriers are at a major disadvantage. Lauren Whitney is a mother who took to social media in tears after store-hopping to look for diapers only to find empty shelves. She asked “…how am I supposed to diaper my child if I can’t afford 20 at a time like you can?”

Her candid story demonstrates the current dilemma facing low-income households: either strain finances in order to secure groceries or risk empty shelves and the loss of essential items.

The hardships continue for marginalized communities when it comes to dealing with COVID-19 itself. Lack of health insurance could prove to be a barrier for racial minorities when it comes to getting tested. The African American community in Michigan is being hit hard by COVID-19. While they represent only 14% of the state’s population, they make up 77% of Detroit’s population which is seeing an influx of COVID-19 cases. This has resulted in 40% of COVID-19 deaths for the entire state being African Americans. Urban areas are at the center of this struggle, and with it, so are the minority and marginalized groups that live there.

Fortunately, that is not where this story ends. Individuals and communities are seeing these hardships and coming alongside those in need.

A group of Black women doctors in California found out that lack of health insurance was a barrier for Black Americans needing COVID-19 testing and immediately mobilized to spearhead a positive initiative. They provided free pop-up testing so that anyone who isn’t insured can still receive necessary medical care. This is exactly what inclusion and accessibility looks like.

Community leaders and celebrities alike are stepping up to be inclusive and initiate positive change. How about this precious example? Matthew McConaughey hosted a virtual game of Bingo for a group of seniors at a retirement home, all in the hopes of bringing a little bit of joy to one of the most isolated populations. These are the sweet moments that provide a break and give me hope. We need these.

However, what really excites me is when people combine creativity and innovation to inspire a positive social impact. #geekmoment At the intersection of this is Ashley Lawrence — she’s a college student who modified the conventional face mask to enable communication with individuals who are deaf or mute. The plastic insert is embedded in order to uncover facial cues and lip reading.

All of this demonstrates that uncertain and unprecedented times do not mean leadership, innovation and inclusion get put on hold. It means that we need to think wider and work harder. Solutions will not come easily, but it is up to each of us to come alongside our community, both near and far. So blow bubbles with your kids in front of the windows at a nursing home. Check in with your local food pantry, and help provide for their needs. Consider becoming a foster parent. The options are endless. If we want to come out stronger on the other side of this, then we need to do it together.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Manar Abbas is a digital strategist in AdTech, leading innovative data-driven solutions at MiQ. Her personal story of immigrating to Canada at a young age catalyzed Manar’s commitment to meaningfully bridge the gap between the tech industry and inclusivity. She encourages curiosity & vulnerability as a means of fostering inclusive spaces.

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