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Disabled People Aren’t Disposable in the Pandemic

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been the idea that the way to fight Covid-19 is to lock down all of those who are vulnerable and have life continue as normal for all that are healthy. 

This would essentially mean that everyone who is elderly, disabled, chronically ill, and immunosuppressed, should not – do not – function as part of society and the economy. 

This may sound similar to the current shielding system (if you’re kind enough to call it a system), but rather, the discourse upon which this suggestion sits is far more wide-reaching than our current guidelines. This rhetoric denotes that all people with underlying health conditions or those above the age of 60 (the “vulnerable age”) should lockdown and lock away.

Another off-shoot of this discourse states that Covid isn’t “that bad” because it’s only really impacting the vulnerable. 

There are a number of fundamental, ableist flaws within this narrative, so let’s unpack them. 

Firstly, a very significant proportion of those people who are suggested to be deserving of sole locking down are vital parts of our everyday experiences. They work in all areas, they support you through your day, they have families to care for and support, and they have a life to live outside of a small bubble. 

The notion that disabled people aren’t a real part of society is simply based upon stereotypes. FIrstly, it considers disabled people as wholly without the ability to do anything, to play a part in society, to make themselves happy and fulfil their desires. In this example, I think of my brother, who is 23 and has Down’s Syndrome. Before the pandemic, he worked once a week as a catering assistant (don’t tell him I said this, but think dinner lady) at a school. His job was wholly productive, but he is also a part of society because of his great puzzle skills and the ways in which he is able to help me when I have a flare-up, or annoy me when I’m feeling okay.

Disabled people are people, and as simplistic as this is, this is crucially forgotten within the pushing of the narrative that Covid isn’t that bad if it only impacts the disabled and the vulnerable. 

Secondly – vitally – this narrative dictates that society does not need those people. That if they were to get covid, and should the worst outcome prevail, society will not be in trouble. That the people who are ill, who are disabled, don’t have lives with adhering to strict guidelines for. 

When we only shout about the lives lost that once belonged to healthy, young people, we lose sight of the equal importance of every person’s life.

It’s not as though the number of deaths in this country – of which 377 can be attributed to healthy people under the age of 60 – is thereby unimportant because it primarily affects the vulnerable.

At time of publishing 71,109 people had died and there were more patients in hospital than there was during the peak in April. These people were no less important than any others because of their age or health.

This rhetoric is dangerous. It highlights the ableist underpinnings of our society that understand disabled and vulnerable people not as an integral part of our communities, but as burdensome offshoots which are disposable. 

We are not disposable. Not only can I sit here and rattle off a long list of all the jobs that disabled people inhabit, I don’t have to, not least because our worth is not tied to capitalist notions of productivity, but because disabled people are people, and that’s all that should matter. 

It is really scary seeing people with large followings prattle on about how Covid is too ‘over-hyped’ because it doesn’t regularly kill the fit and healthy. It’s undeniable ableism, something that has been multiplied by the pandemic. The platforming and supporting of disabled voices is key to ensure that they are not forgotten when so many people try to forget them.


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