Disability Activism in the Age of COVID-19
Updated: Mar 17, 2020
As the coronavirus spreads across the nation, the disabled community is speaking up about accommodations we've been denied for decades & their sudden availability to the masses.
In the face of the increasingly widespread outbreak of COVID-19, communities across the globe are amping up precautions to slow the spread & keep populations safe. In the U.S., public schools and universities have moved online, businesses have advised employees to telework, flexible schedules & uncharged sick leave have been approved in many places, & organizations of all kinds are making their products & services available virtually. All over the U.S., large-scale accommodations are being provided to ensure people can continue to live & work successfully while remaining healthy. It’s truly inspiring.
There's one group of Americans NOT feeling inspired-- The disabled.
The challenges facing millions in the wake of COVID-19 are very real. The level of uncertainty about the future is unprecedented. People are sick & dying. Jobs are being lost--income disappeared. Businesses have closed their doors. Food supplies are running short. And people are scared.
Yet, “this too shall pass”.
I’m in no way trying to minimize the situation by saying this. It’s the truth. As bleak as it seems right now, we will recover. The virus spread will slow. Businesses & schools will reopen their doors. Concerts, shows, & social gatherings will resume. Jobs & income will be restored. The economy will bounce back. Life will go back to what it was before. What a relief it will be!
For the disabled, the relief won't come.
The short-term effects most are experiencing thanks to the coronavirus are a permanent reality for the disabled. The “new normal” that’s disrupting plans, forcing people to stay home, & robbing them of income is just our “normal”. And the “exceptional” and “creative” methods our society has used to remain engaged and productive are basic requests we’ve been making this whole time--on deaf ears.Our fight for accommodations & accessibility spans decades. And we’ve been met with a myriad of excuses as to why it is simply “impossible” to provide them. And so we’re a bit salty.
We’re frustrated that millions are teleworking to remain safe from COVID, but a woman disabled by breast cancer treatment & highly susceptible to illness is met with the response “Teleworking is only for senior staff”.
We’re disappointed to see so many companies & businesses granting additional paid sick leave for otherwise healthy individuals when those with chronic illnesses are forced to choose between managing their condition and losing their job when they run through their sick leave and vacation days in the first 4 months of the year.
We’re sad that college students are able to reschedule exams or take them online when disabled students are regularly met with resistance or docked grades.
We’re angry when employees who can still go to work are met with compassion and understanding when requesting accessibility accommodations when every day disabled persons experience rigidity, resistance, discrimination, or outright refusal. (And it often costs them their jobs).
We’re confused when meetings, lessons, events, & social gatherings are so easily shared virtually all of a sudden, when disabled people are so regularly left out entirely when they cannot otherwise attend in-person.
It is truly a wonder to see the nation band together to ensure the health and well-being of its communities in the wake of the coronavirus. But an utter disappointment to now see in action just how feasible the same would be possible for disabled Americans every single day. We need the same compassion, understanding, and creativity in solving the problems facing our colleagues, neighbors, and communities year round--not just in a disaster.
After COVID-19 has slowed and the threat safely behind us all, let us continue a culture of empathy, community, & support.
And if it happens to slip your mind, don’t worry. The disabled community will be there, ready with a reminder that COVID-19 proved just how “possible” the “impossible” is!