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E Jamar is a writer and activist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
As the United States continues to lift restrictions on social distancing and wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, disabled people like me are reminded that we live in a country that views us as disposable.
The United States will continue to lift restrictions as more low-risk populations are vaccinated. High-risk groups are one of the last groups to be eligible to receive the vaccine, and this is no accident.
In early March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for vaccinated individuals, allowing them to visit “low-risk households.” Disabled people will die because of it.
Our abled peers have made it no secret that they will not isolate, even if our lives depend on it. Lifting restrictions, when only roughly 9 percent of the population is vaccinated, invites those around us to push the limits more than they already do.
The most common phrase you’ll hear if you push back on the country opening up is, “If you’re high-risk, just stay home.” Able-bodied people have become increasingly more vocal in their beliefs that disabled people don’t deserve the same lives as their abled peers.
Not only is this line of thinking blatantly discriminatory, it’s just not possible for disabled people to do.
Disabled people work full-time jobs, go to school, and have children and housemates who cannot be isolated from them. Furthermore, many disabled people require hands-on care and will never be able to isolate entirely.
Another common excuse for refusing to social distance comes from a mental health stance. Our friends and family members are going to bars, restaurants and hosting dinner parties in the name of mental health, while shrugging off the mental health struggles of disabled people, or refusing to believe we have any at all.
Assuming that disabled people can easily isolate, or that our mental health won’t suffer just as much as yours from lack of social interaction is ableist in itself. Disabled people deserve the same enrichment as anyone else, but moreover, we deserve to live.
Yet every day I wake up and see a new headline that gaslights my experience and tells me that my life is disposable.
I get into arguments, I try to prove my existence to those around me, and then I go to therapy and unpack the fact that society views me as a burden weekly. It’s an endless cycle with no end in sight.
Just because we’ve created a culture where it’s acceptable to voice your disapproval of disabled lives altogether, doesn’t mean that it’s not violent and inhumane.
From higher COVID death rates to triage eugenics to lack of vaccine prioritization, ableism in the pandemic is raging harder than ever before, and to no surprise to disabled people. Throughout history we have resisted against the systems that have tried to kill us, and we will resist now as our government and peers continue to disregard our lives.