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I’ve asked to work remotely for years. It’s painful to watch companies finally comply

As a black queer woman with cerebral palsy who has written professionally for years, it’s hard to see publications suddenly making accommodations they told me were impossible.

I’ve asked to work remotely for years. It’s painful to watch companies finally comply
[Source images: IconicBestiary/iStock; dimitrisvetsikas1969/Pixabay]

“I have questions,” was my first thought when I learned at the beginning of March that so many publications were switching to remote work due to COVID-19. I’m not saying this was the wrong thing to do. Far from it. Ensuring that writers and editors can work remotely is imperative to helping everyone stop the spread of the virus. Social distancing is keeping people like myself, who are the most vulnerable, much safer. 

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But I have questions because I am a black queer woman with cerebral palsy who has been writing professionally since 2015. When I graduated SUNY Fredonia in 2013 with a degree in journalism and a minor in creative writing, I foolishly believed the world was my oyster. I thought I’d find a job in no longer than a few months with my shiny new degree. I was so wrong. For an entire year, all of the publications I applied to ignored me after I disclosed that I was disabled and was hoping for a remote position.

I even got to the point where I proudly announced that I was willing to move for a job and find a way to an office each day. Nothing I said was good enough. After disclosing my disability, they suddenly decided to go in a different direction, but wished me the best on my future endeavors. (Is this illegal? Sure, but that didn’t stop them.)

If remote work is suddenly possible now, why wasn’t it when I applied?”

In the years that followed their rejections, I worked as a freelancer for publications like Teen Vogue, Autostraddle, and Allure. I also wrote my first book, The Pretty One, published by Atria Books in 2019. I did this all remotely. I shouldn’t have to list accomplishments to show that remote work is possible and yields results. But I feel like I have to, in a climate where some of the very employers who told me that remote work wasn’t feasible are now quickly rushing to help their employees work from home.

If remote work is suddenly possible now, why wasn’t it when I applied? Is it because nondisabled people suddenly need to work remotely so they can pay bills and have food to eat and clothes on their back and a roof over their heads? Because, disabled people have always needed those things, too. 

Obviously we are living in extraordinary times. However, what does it say to the disabled applicants these places previously rejected, as recently as a few months ago? For me, it said you are not as valuable to us as they are, and you will never be. Make no mistake: Not allowing remote work until the threat of a pandemic is ableist. This is an ongoing issue for every industry, not just journalism. This discrimination happens across industries, and no one bats an eye unless they themselves are disabled. 

This is especially painful to see at a time when people are saying that the lives of disabled or chronically ill are expendable—or worth sacrificing for the good of the economy. Others say that if we are diagnosed with coronavirus, they will do their best to make us comfortable instead of treating us with the same equipment they would treat nondisabled with. It’s as though preexisting conditions mean that we deserve death.

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My hope is that when we eventually come out of this crisis, the remote work model will be seen under a whole new lens, one that allows companies to confront their own ableism and consider hiring those of us who can and do work remotely. We have the necessary abilities to be an asset to their companies if they let us. My hope is that publications will see that while the circumstances that they find themselves remotely working under are not circumstances any of us would wish for, the model itself is not the hindrance they once thought it to be. 

Accommodations for disabled, chronically ill, fat, and other marginalized people are a matter of life or death, right or wrong, freedom or captivity. Accommodations help make businesses better because they allow more consumers to purchase more goods. In the time of social distancing, accommodations like remote work allow publications to continue sharing news and making content. What still seems to be missing from these news stories and content creation is what was missing before: the voices of disabled people. Companies should use this experience to reexamine the harm they have done and make changes to their business models now, rather than waiting for the global disaster.

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