The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have released guidance indicating that “long COVID" is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal laws.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States report experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19. Long COVID symptoms may last for months after an initial infection, and may affect people in profoundly different ways.
The HHS notes some of the common symptoms of the syndrome:
- Tiredness or fatigue.
- Difficult thinking or concentrating (“brain fog").
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Dizziness when standing.
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (known as heart palpitations).
- Chest pain or cough.
- Joint or muscle pain.
- Depression or anxiety.
- Loss of taste or smell.
According to the HHS and DOJ, federal non-discrimination laws protect the rights of people with disabilities — and long COVID can be a disability under the ADA.
“People whose long COVID qualifies as a disability are entitled to the same protections from discrimination as any other person with a disability under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557,” the HHS guidance reads. “Put simply, they are entitled to full and equal opportunities to participate in and enjoy all aspects of civic and commercial life.”
Long COVID highlights the importance of an accessible internet
The COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to digital accessibility. Suddenly, millions of people relied on the internet for working, ordering food, and carrying out other essential activities, and businesses scrambled to expand their online services.
But when websites and mobile apps have serious accessibility issues, people notice. An estimated 27% of U.S. adults live with at least one disability, but the vast majority of web content is not fully accessible.
The prevalence of long COVID symptoms may help to push organizations to embrace accessibility. Title III of the ADA requires businesses to provide accessible digital content — and allows people with disabilities to file lawsuits against businesses that fail to do so.
Web design decisions may impact users with long COVID symptoms
While long COVID can affect people in profoundly different ways, certain symptoms are especially relevant to digital accessibility conversations.
“Brain fog,” or difficulty concentrating, is an especially important concern. Websites should be predictable and operable — users should be able to easily understand how to operate the controls and find the content they need.
Of course, that’s simply good web design, but it’s also crucial for accessibility. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), considered the international standards for accessibility, provides guidance for avoiding barriers that impact users with conditions that affect their ability to concentrate:
- Provide clear, unambiguous instructions when content requires user input (such as a web form). Read: Why Form Labels and Instructions Are Important for Digital Accessibility.
- Allow users to turn off, adjust, or extend time limits. Provide clear notifications about time limits and give users as much control as possible. Read: Web Accessibility Tips: Give People Enough Time.
- Avoid using autoplay. If you must use autoplay, give users a way to pause, stop, or hide the autoplay content. Read: Why Autoplay Is an Accessibility No-No.
- Make sure that components that have the same functionality across the website are identified consistently. Read: WCAG’s requirements for consistent identification.
- When links appear consistently throughout a website (such as on a header or footer menu), make sure that they appear in a consistent relative order. Read WCAG’s requirements for consistent navigation.
Following WCAG improves web content for every user — not just people with attention disorders, vision impairments, hearing impairments, or other conditions. By building content with an accessible mindset, organizations can deliver better experiences (and reach a much wider audience).
To learn more, download our free eBook, Developing the Accessibility Mindset.