As fall break rolled around and fall foliage around the Northeast became impossible to resist, news around the country about spikes in COVID-19 cases came to the forefront. For me, and millions of other disabled and immuno-compromised citizens, this meant months more of staying inside and socially isolating due to administrative inaction and others’ personal irresponsibility.
Disabled people made up 6 in 10 COVID-19 deaths in England and Wales between March 2 and July 14 and are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their non-disabled peers. Much of this results from attitudes that were also present in the American right wing early in the pandemic, when Sean Hannity said that “most of the people who die from COVID-19 are on their last legs anyways,” the idea being that the pandemic should not control our lives since only those with disabilities are the ones suffering. This sentiment, by the way, was extended by the College when the health center reached out to immuno-compromised students during spring break and told us to stay home before everyone else.
This rhetoric is making a comeback now, as pandemic fatigue reaches an all-time high and people just want to get outside, see their friends and pretend that everything is normal. This was readily apparent during fall break, when students were not only gathering in large groups outside their pods but were openly posting pictures of parties and barbeques on social media.
Let me tell you the message this sends to the disabled community, which has been absolutely decimated in the past eight months. It tells us that, reminiscent of the beginning of the pandemic, you are ready to cast us aside once again in your quest to return to some semblance of normalcy. It tells us that our livelihoods, such as our ability to safely venture into the world to get medicine and groceries, are less important than your ability to party. It extends and parades the ableist message that we are inferior. My counter-message is simple: do better.
Many of us in the disabled community have been isolating for eight months now without an end in sight. Personally, I have only seen two friends in the past eight months, and each time I was sure to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines. That is because if I am not sure that everyone around me is being safe, I know that the risk is high for me to get ill. And I know that if I myself am not safe, I could unknowingly spread a disease that could prevent someone in my community from getting vital treatment.
I know issues of ability are often left off of social justice initiatives and diversity lists, which is another issue propagated by the College. If you have ever once thought that this pandemic only affects disabled people and the elderly, and because of that everyone else should live their lives normally, please, we need you to do better. Unlearn your biases and put effort into educating yourself about disability justice.
I know administrative responses from the federal to state levels have been bad and unclear, but that does not absolve you from your responsibility in the community to care about others. When the broader apparatuses fail, as unfair as it may be, the responsibility falls to us—and at this moment we are failing. In this instance, right here, right now, the disabled community needs you to stop partying and focus so we can get back to a decent livelihood and stop dying.
Philip Bonanno is a member of the Class of 2023.