On December 3rd, we honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations-sanctioned day that has been observed since 1992. The theme for this year is ‘Fighting for Rights in the Post-Covid Era’. The representation of the disability community within the worldwide response to Covid-19 is extremely important, given that folks with disabilities were some of the most heavily impacted by the spread of the virus and its effects on social and structural systems. Even as many feel the pull to transition into a ‘post’ Covid-19 era, many disabled people are forced to continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic on their access to basic care, as well as how it perpetuates social isolation, mental health issues, and inadequate representation within societal decision making.
Within critical disability theory, it is not the people themselves who are disabled, but the society they live in that is disabling to their lives. By only structuring accessibility around those who are ‘able’, swaths of people are left out of communities and conversations within which they would play vital roles. For one example, people with disabilities have advocated for the ability to work remotely long before the pandemic, yet it was only when this option was necessary for everyone that it became more available to them. As Dobransky & Hargittai (2021) argue, “in fighting to have these options available and making use of [social media and digital platforms] for video chatting, working remotely, and activism, for instance, people with disabilities likely paved the way for millions of those who were scrambling to put them to use during the social upheavals of the pandemic”. They assert that this is an example of how accommodations like these “ultimately benefit the population at large”.
With this in mind, it is maddening to recognize that disabled people’s needs have continued to be left to the side both in the continued social response to the pandemic as well as within the lack of disability perspective in public health decision making, particularly as we now know that some of the effects of having Covid-19 can be disabling. To move forward involves all of us considering what accessibility truly means, what the disability community has achieved that benefits the larger society, and how better representation and equitable care can be gained.
By: Kiri Lester-Hodges
Creative Arts Therapy Intern
Dobransky, K., & Hargittai, E. (2021). Piercing the Pandemic Social Bubble: Disability and Social Media Use About COVID-19. American Behavioral Scientist, 65(12), 1698–1720. https://doi.org/10.1177/00027642211003146