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Unlikely Pandemic-Driven Accessibility Improvements — and Their Quiet Disappearance

by Nikhil Vohra, Technology Desk Editor

As many venues open up and events transition from virtual to physical, it’s hard to imagine that we could be losing something valuable from the months of quarantine that kept us isolated from one another and separated from much of the world around us. But, as those living with disabilities have realized, the pandemic, although posing its own accessibility issues, also allowed for some improvements. For example, virtual art events require no commute and offer built-in narrated descriptions in some cases. Online concerts, plays, and exhibits reached new audiences in a virtual format. This provided the perfect accommodation for many living with chronic conditions or physical disabilities. As Brijana Prooker writes in The Observer, “The pandemic opened up my world. […] I saw more live events in the past year than I did in the ten years prior.” But while most are rejoicing at the thought of ending the year-and-a-half-long virtual chapter of their lives, she fears that her world might be closing as many of those events forego the online format with no plans to return: “I feel like I’m being disinvited from the party. I’m disabled from an autoimmune disease, and attending live events is painful and dangerous. If I go, I risk weeks of recovery.” Stories like Brijana’s highlight a perspective that many don’t hear, and it’s easy to miss those points of view in society’s eager anticipation for a return to normalcy—but they suggest that hybrid models can be considered as we recover from the pandemic as a viable way to go forward. Luckily, a number of venues, including Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Operaplan to adopt hybrid models of reopening, and they offer hope that other venues and events might follow suit. Read Brijana’s piece on the quiet disappearance of pandemic accessibility in The Observer.