dark clouds with sun shining through

COVID: Reflections On Silver Linings

It has been over a year now since we were all suddenly and abruptly confined to our homes. This year brought grief, fear, and uncertainty and to say it has been a heart-wrenching and challenging year is a gross understatement. Perhaps like some of you, I find it important to find light in the darkness.  This is not to deny or dismiss it but more as an attempt to pay attention, to acknowledge what we got right, to focus on lessons learned

Starting early in my career I’ve been interested in technology and accessibility as tools of empowerment and inclusion. Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is coming up soon (May 20, 2021) and I found myself thinking about some of the silver linings of our sudden pivot to remote teaching, learning, and work. While being forced to isolate, and use our devices as the main means of communicating, presented a lot of challenges, the isolation and technical challenges we experienced as abled people are in many ways what some people with disabilities experience all the time.

From an accessibility perspective, COVID put us all on a level playing field. We all needed to figure out how to use Zoom, we all experienced the fatigue of being online for long stretches, we all had to make our tools work for us, we all had to learn how to interact with material online, we all had to get creative in figuring out how to communicate and keep our social connections.

In many ways, Swarthmore has been incredibly fortunate from a technology perspective. We had already done a lot of leg work in choosing platforms and vendors who had a strong commitment to creating products that were accessible and therefore more universally usable. We are also a community that supports and strives for diversity and inclusion, including people with disabilities.

What follows is a shortlist of the silver linings I’ve observed. I’m sure there are many more. Some of these also sit on the fine edge of being both positive and negative.

  • People with disabilities have been asking to work remotely for years. As part of this grand global “experiment”, we have proven that some jobs can be accomplished just as well remotely as in person.
  • As an institution, we reacted in a very positive way by providing support to help ensure access to the internet and the devices to connect to it.
  • We learned that technology CAN be usable AND accessible, and we became aware of how difficult technology can be when accessibility is not kept in mind.
  • As an organization, ITS reacted quickly by providing training and increasing our collective knowledge about tools and techniques for teaching online.
  • I found that I could attend and participate in social and professional events that I might never have been able to before the pandemic specifically because of the conditions imposed on us all
  • Inequities on a social, political, and infrastructure level came into stark light. For some on a deeply personal level and for others from a distance in the form of a shattering of assumptions and increased awareness.  The silver lining here is that these issues are now being discussed and worked on.
  • Captioned video and live captioning in Zoom was a godsend for notetaking and better comprehension for everyone.
  • Some of us realized how much easier reading text-based documents was compared to image-based documents. Part of this realization came because we found we could consume text-based documents in different ways using browser based tools or tools that would let us listen, or alter text size, line height, and/or text color
  • Screen fatigue became a regular occurrence and we learned some tips and tricks to help
  • Swarthmore set up  remote teaching studios that could be used for recording classes, flipped instruction or remote teaching class

How about you?  What silver linings have you observed? What did you discover that surprised you in a positive way in your working, teaching or learning environments?


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