Trigger warning: Disabled deaths as a result of COVID-19
It’s hard to be told that your life is worth less than others; it’s even harder to have it repeated across social media, videos, posts, D.M.s, comments, political and medical coverage, and casual chats.
It’s overwhelming, unrelenting, dehumanising.
Consider a world in which the statement: I deserve to live, even if it slightly impinges on your life, is a radical act – a radical suggestion. You’re already living in it. It’s not a hypothetical scenario. You live a somewhat gilded existence if you don’t see its structures or feel its effects.
Disabled people live in unadorned cages.
It’s a world that commodifies all of us. Disabled people are the broken commodities. We’re a homogenous group: devoid of personality, worth and value. Ableism, the belief that disabled people are less important than non-disabled people, isn’t camouflaged nor discreet. It’s not well-hidden.
Disabled people face its wearing effects daily. I have been asked what I do when I am attacked on social media for the crime – the radical act – of expecting others to do the bare minimum. Don’t kill us because a global pandemic, a mass disabling event, has become an inconvenience.
I replied that if people become abusive, I block them, which feels like a radical act in itself. Disabled people, especially disabled women, are taught that they must educate at all costs. We must be docile and passively share our experiences hoping that non-disabled will accept us.
Our right to life depends on our ability to fight, to articulate our struggles in a palatable, passive, deferential manner. But you can’t always teach empathy. You can’t educate or heal the problem of ignorance when it’s willful, purposeful, calculated, convenient.
Some non-disabled people don’t believe that they could become one of the “only” people to die, become severely ill, and experience Long Covid. They simply see the world through an impenetrable filter of arrogance. To suggest that fact means that we are attacking them unprovoked.
For the record, hypothetically, killing someone is rather rude, as is the “you do you” approach to a pandemic – who knew the Grim Reaper had a recruitment drive? I am attacking you if you believe these things.
It’s undoubtedly provoked. Disabled people have accounted for 6 in 10 Covid deaths. If my rudeness offends you, if it makes you uncomfortable, if it removes the smoke of ableism and entitlement for a moment, the power from the hypothesises and the “onlys”, so be it.
So, in this world of ours, it’s hard to have the Director of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, suggest on television that it’s “really encouraging” that the omicron variant is most likely to harm disabled people.
It’s “really encouraging news” that 75% of vaccinated people who died of COVID-19 were already disabled. Coronavirus has killed over 860,000 people in the U.S., and disabled people have disproportionately faced extreme illness, hospitalisation and death.
It also began a Twitter campaign from Imani Barbarin, a disability representation and inclusion advocate, with the hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy. The posts and messages are beautiful, poignant, raw, unfiltered – human. It’s a snapshot of what it is to be a part of the disabled community, a place of shelter as the rest of the world tries to demean you and wear you down day after day.
How dare we expect better from a society that has conditioned us to believe that our lives should be lived silently, publicly, subserviently. We’re the burdens – the forgotten, the othered.
Walensky has argued her comments were taken out of context and affirmed the importance of protecting disabled people. However, In the U.K., we face the same onslaught of messaging.
From the pandemic’s start, news reports and statements from many other sources have stressed that “only” the elderly and previously ill were at risk of complications and death from COVID-19. In addition, the Government has embraced “herd immunity”, a practice that reminds disabled people that they are the human cost of convenience – self-preservation and self-absorption.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Government’s plan to end the legal requirement that people should isolate if they test positive for the virus. The law expires on March 24, and Boris Johnson has stated that he doesn’t plan to renew it, and it may be withdrawn earlier. It means that people will be given guidance and advice, but they will have the freedom to go about their daily lives with COVID-19.
When did it become socially acceptable to pull the trigger in an invisible but ever-present firing squad? Non-disabled people pretend that they aren’t complicit – that the targets on our backs haven’t been placed there within their sight – with their encouragement.
This message, and others like it, are everywhere, as are the non-disabled people ready to tell you that you misunderstand the statement or that they agree with it.
To be told that your life matters less – to be bombarded with that message for years is damaging – it’s also wrong. Ableism is baked within our culture. It always has been – COVID-19 has made it inescapable.
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