The world has been turned on its head and it is an unsettling feeling. Life has a giant question mark on it; everything you thought you knew has changed and the sense of safety you felt may be gone. The everyday reality of sick and disabled folks is now the temporary reality of the entire world. That fear, grief, and uncertainty you feel now is how sick and disabled folks feel all of the time. We always have to ask: Will being in public make me sick? Will I be able to access the places I need to go? What will I do now that I can no longer do my favorite activities? How will I support myself if I can’t work?
The disability community has been fighting for decades for the improved access you are currently enjoying. Online classes, working from home, virtual gatherings, free personal enrichment activities, improved sanitary procedures, and not touching people you don’t know are all things that disabled people have been asking for. We have been denied, contributing to our ongoing isolation and lack of opportunities. It is obvious now that these things are easily achieved. We expect them to continue.
Many outdoor enthusiasts are upset about not being able to go to their favorite trails. You know that being outdoors is important for your physical and mental health. It is just as important, perhaps even more so, for sick and disabled people. But we always encounter barriers to the outdoors. We always have to ask if the trails are accessible. We always have to wonder if visiting a park is safe, if the people there are going to be accommodating or not, if the information we need is available.
Please understand that while you are complaining about being asked to stay home for two weeks, many of us never leave the house that frequently. While you are dramatically counting up your days in quarantine, many of us are on the same number of weeks or months. Please understand that while the world comes together in amazing displays of community support, many of us are wondering where you were when we needed you; where were the grocery deliveries, the sharing of personal supplies, the online concerts, the visitations through windows while we were isolated?
Sick and disabled folks are literally in fear for their lives, especially right now. Many of us have underlying conditions that put us at greater risk regardless of age. Even those of us who don’t have at risk conditions know that we are likely to be refused care as medical treatment is rationed. People who are deemed less valuable to society – the elderly, the sick and disabled, the unhoused, and people of color – are being left to die. Your safety and recovery are pretty much guaranteed. Ours is not. Please stay home to reduce the infection rate (i.e., flatten the curve). You will literally save lives.
We are all struggling during this time and I know how disrupting the sudden change to routine can be. I share these things with you not to chastise, but to ask you to be more conscientious about the privilege afforded to you as a generally healthy and able-bodied person. Please don’t let things go back to normal when this is over. Let it be an opportunity to build more access and inclusion for people with disabilities in your community.