The Ableist Response to COVID-19

Content/trigger warning: COVID-19 (Coronavirus), ableism, eugenics, cursing, sick pet

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

You’re on Facebook, checking up on the latest from ASAN in preparation for Autism Hell Month and soothing your soul with kitten videos (or, well, that’s what you’re doing if you’re me) and you see a post that says something like this:

“DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS! It’s only going to kill the elderly and the immunocompromised 🙂 You’ll be safe :)”

So…are elderly people and immunocompromised people…not people, then? Or don’t matter? Or don’t use social media? What exactly are you trying to say here?

Oh, right. You’re trying to say that you’re an ableist piece of shit.

This sentiment is also ableist because young, abled people who aren’t at high risk for infection and/or complications can be asymptomatic carriers. If you’re not worried about suffering from the virus yourself, you should be concerned about infecting your elderly grandparents, or your friend who’s on chemo, or maybe even a stranger on the train you take to work. 

In other words, I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.

But if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that ableism is deeply entrenched. Abled people are conditioned to think of disabled people as subhuman and Disabled people are conditioned to think of ourselves as subhuman. While it’s beyond wrong to see Disabled lives as disposable in light of a pandemic, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Speaking of seeing Disabled lives as disposable, I’ve even seen worse outlooks on the COVID-19 pandemic. Eugenic outlooks, such as armchair epidemiologists saying that a certain number of susceptible people have to die before we achieve herd immunity for The Greater Good of Humanity. I’ve seen takes that outright claim (as opposed to implying, like the example I gave above) that no one who matters will be affected by the virus.

Now, a ton of people are at risk of being affected by the virus.

Here is a list of conditions that the CDC reports may be at increased risk for severe COVID-19 infection:

  • Blood disorders (e.g., sickle cell disease or on blood thinners)
  • Chronic kidney disease as defined by your doctor. Patient has been told to avoid or reduce the dose of medications because kidney disease, or is under treatment for kidney disease, including receiving dialysis
  • Chronic liver disease as defined by your doctor. (e.g., cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis) Patient has been told to avoid or reduce the dose of medications because liver disease or is under treatment for liver disease.
  • Compromised immune system (immunosuppression) (e.g., seeing a doctor for cancer and treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, received an organ or bone marrow transplant, taking high doses of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medications, HIV or AIDS)
  • Current or recent pregnancy in the last two weeks
  • Endocrine disorders (e.g., diabetes mellitus)
  • Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
  • Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
  • Lung disease including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (chronic bronchitis or emphysema) or other chronic conditions associated with impaired lung function or that require home oxygen
  • Neurological and neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury)

(Note: I have no idea if the CDC is including Autisticness under “developmental delay,” so I’m freaked. Not that healthcare providers take Autistic people’s health concerns seriously anyway.) So apparently, according to some abled fuckheads, anyone with any of those conditions is inconsequential. Their lives don’t matter.

I also want to bring up the intersection between classism and ableism in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many low-income workers do not have paid sick leave, sufficient sick days, etc. and there have been goddamn senators blocking initiatives to mandate employers to change these policies during the pandemic. (As I’m writing this, Pelosi’s COVID-19 bill to pay sick workers to stay home has been fucked with by Republicans who demanded that employers with over 500 workers be exempt and Democrats caved.) This affects Disabled people because many of us were not able to complete higher education due to the intensely ableist violence inherent in academia and only have the option to work low-income jobs.

Speaking of work, many workplaces that can go to mandatory working from home are doing so. I have to work from home this coming week. Also, many universities/colleges are now holding classes remotely. Why is this ableist? It’s not; remote work and classes are more accessible than in-person work and classes. What’s ableist is that these workplaces and schools previously refused to allow remote participation for Disabled people’s accommodations. This demonstrates that the limp excuses about cost, practicality, etc. of remote work/class were all bullshit and rooted in ableism. Accessibility is only provided for abled people because Disabled people’s needs aren’t seen as legitimate.

Zipporah Arielle, also known as @coffeespoonie, has done a better job writing about this than I ever could, so if you’re interested in anything I’ve said here, I suggest reading her piece on being immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disabled-immunocompromised-people-coronavirus_n_5e6a6acfc5b6dda30fc51c2f

That’s all I have for now. Stay safe, wash your hands for 20 seconds, and use hand sanitizer that’s at least 90% alcohol.

EDIT: Okay, I do have something else to say. As I type, #PanicShopping is trending on Twitter. That seems a strange way to say “hoarding months’ worth of items like bottled water and masks that Disabled people need more than you” to me, but I suppose what I just typed doesn’t make a pithy hashtag.

Many thanks to my Patreon supporters: Ace, Hannah, Emily, Kael, Karina, Mackenzie, Rose, and Sean! If you want to be as awesome as them (and see my entries two days early, among other perks), consider supporting me on Patreon: patreon.com/arzinzani

In other terrible disease-related news, my cat has an abdominal tumor that has a 90% chance of being cancer. It is scheduled for removal in two days and I’m still fundraising to pay for the surgery. Please donate and/or share widely if you can: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-b039elanna-beat-mammary-cancer

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