Ableism during COVID-19

You might already be familiar with things like racism/sectarianism/sexism, but one “-ism” that is seemingly more and more over looked during the pandemic is “Ableism”.

But what is ableism?

Your mind probably jumps to thinking about places, and how physically accessible they are for those with physical disabilities -things like automatic doors and ramps. Or maybe you started thinking about ableist slurs like the “R” word…? These are both examples of where ableism can come into play, but during COVID-19, ableism has taken on a new face, and some new words.

How often have you heard someone complain “it’s only the most vulnerable at risk”? How often have you heard someone question the restrictions saying “that’s a bit extreme, why should I do that? I’m healthy anyway”. How often have you heard the suggestion that “we should just go for herd immunity” or “go back to normality and just let the vulnerable stay inside”. These are the new words of ableism.

By using these words and not considering the people who make up “the most vulnerable”, we hurt those who fall into this category and we reduce their lives down to nothing more than a medical condition. We don’t consider how much they contribute to our society and to our communities, their friends, families, or loved ones. We don’t even consider that they are real people, with real feelings and emotions – because logic only states that no one would be ok with their life and health being put on the line just for the sake of having things like a “normal” Saturday night out or a holiday.

COVID has been so challenging for everyone, there is no question in that. But sometimes our thoughtlessness really hurts our communities. There are over 14.1 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in the UK, and each of them will have been affected by COVID in a different way.

Some of them might be petrified right now and have stuck strictly to shielding, others include some of our children and young people who still have so much of their lives ahead of them and are struggling without having the same social support, others include even our Dr’s, nurses, and other medical professionals and key workers who have been giving their absolute all to try and get us all through this. Not all of these people will fit your image of what a disabled or “sick” person looks like -maybe some of them do- but regardless, all of them have so much worth which is totally erased by these kinds of ableist sentiments.

So next time you hear about “only the most vulnerable”, or before you go to share that post  suggesting that the rules shouldn’t apply to you if you are able-bodied and healthy – I challenge you to consider those 14.1 million people, and what that could mean for each of them.

Sure, masks can be uncomfortable, sanitising constantly is a bit of an inconvenience, and the ever changing rules can be frustrating and confusing – but is your “normality” worth our lives?

2020 was a year where we needed to band together and support each other more than ever, and no doubt this is still vital in 2021 too. So be kind, be compassionate, and let’s make sure that we don’t leave anyone behind as we are navigating our way through these challenging times. There is still so much we need to do about ableism in our society, but considering how it affects our communities is a good place to start. This may feel like an unending struggle – but it wont go on forever – lets get through it together.

Article written by Kayla-Megan Burns & Aspen Lynch