Words By Georgia Shakeshaft
Alongside the fear and frustration felt by most at the start of the pandemic, for disabled people, there were inklings of hope that this could be the start of something better. We saw accessibility that we’d been fighting for, such as flexible working and remote access, suddenly happen overnight. With our non-disabled peers now housebound or unable to do things they loved due to the national lockdown, we clung to optimism that we’d be empathised with at long last. Perhaps issues affecting the disabled community would receive the attention they have sorely deserved.
Unfortunately, the hope and community consideration didn’t last long until resolving boredom topped our lives on the priority list for many. The transition also wasn’t quiet. Beaches, brunches and beers plastered on Instagram stories. Morning news programmes regularly weigh up vulnerable people’s lives and the local hairdresser or pub’s re-opening. Thousands of tweets and headlines about ‘getting on with our lives’ and throw the dying and unproductive to the wolves. Being reminded how little your life as a disabled person is worth to your community, and even your friends became inescapable.
A year on from the start of the pandemic, recent ONS figures have stated that 60% of COVID-19 deaths in the UK were disabled people, and the only outrage I’ve seen has been from our community. I want to clarify that I’m aware the government is responsible for the pandemic’s mass death through horrific management. Disabled people are tragically aware that our Conservative government has never cared about our lives and needs. You can read in Dr Frances Ryan’s book ‘Crippled’ about how the effects of austerity have left disabled people sleeping in their wheelchairs, living off of cereal in cold homes, pursuing risky methods of income and remaining in unsafe situations due to the lack of social care funding and accessibility of support.
In 2019, the UN said that the conservatives’ policy of austerity was a violation of disabled peoples’ human rights. Even in the pandemic, shortages of PPE for personal assistants, the pausing of shielding and having to fight for vaccinations show that disabled people are dying the way that a lot of us have lived – ignored.
What wasn’t expected and is most heart-breaking of all is watching our communities sacrifice us the way the government has. After the student outrage at Sussex when the Student Union announced they thought the university should close its doors to protect students, I found myself defending my existence to my peers in the comments section who found my vulnerability an inconvenience.
I truly understand that this experience has been a collective trauma for all – we’re missing people, we’re financially and mentally struggling, enveloped in uncertainty and pressure. However, your needs are our needs too; 7 in 10 disabled people have lost income in the pandemic (Scope); we are sick of the same four walls and can’t wait to laugh and hug our friends. Your life is not worth more than ours even though you can’t see us.
We’re exhausted from justifying to people with whom we work and study why we deserve to live and why our mental health suffering from isolation matters too. Some disabled people on social media have posted about preparing packs should they be admitted to the hospital that outlines the people who love and will miss them to avoid the forced DNRs being imposed on so many. We are watching eugenics happen before our eyes and seem to be the only ones paying attention to our death. We’ve watched our friends and co-workers become eugenicists in the name of a good time. Disabled people are everywhere; most of us you won’t see because of the narrow impression you’ve been given of what ‘disabled’ looks like. Disabled people are some of the most adaptable, creative and resilient people I know because we’ve had to be.
We do incredible things and deserve to be here just as much as you. But even if all a disabled person did this week was lie in bed – no person’s capitalist contribution to society should be the measure of if they deserve to live or not. I never want to hear ‘they were going to die soon anyway’ again like any death is somehow acceptable because disabled people look like the 72-year-old man in a wheelchair with a heart condition, and they also look like your 22-year-old friend with Lupus. I’m begging you to help us live – wear a mask, keep your distance, be mindful with your words and urge the government to protect us.