Ableism and The Coronavirus Pandemic: A Rant
On the 11th March 2020, The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic; however, people are still dismissing the severity of the situation as they will more than likely get mild to moderate symptoms. As a chronically ill woman, this sparks anger in me as able-bodied people are dismissing the pandemic as they don’t believe it will affect them.
The WHO recently released a Q&A regarding the Coronavirus stating that ‘older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions appear to develop serious illness more often than others’. Some social media users took this to mean that they do not need to worry because it is only this vulnerable group at risk. This has sparked a debate surrounding ableism and ageism.
You only have to look on twitter briefly to see examples of disabled and older lives being devalued and dehumanised due to the hysteria and panic drummed up by the media. For example:
It is this type of unkind tweets that not only further embed the belief that disabled lives are worthless and in this case worth less than a bag of rice. But it also deters people from following guidelines such as hand-washing, good personal hygiene and self-isolation that would prevent the spread of the disease and in turn protect thousands of vulnerable lives.
With COVID-19 hitting the ill and disable the hardest, it is difficult to believe that society and the media are writing us off with their insensitive rhetoric. The most common line being splashed about by the media is ‘most people recover, and fatalities are largely only among those with underlying health conditions.’ And I’m sick of it, literally. It is meant as a phrase of reassurance to the young and healthier population, however to me, one of those people with several underlying health conditions it seems flippant and accepting of the situation. It feels like the message is, don’t worry, they were already ill and this can’t be helped. It devalues the severity of the situation and it feels to me like my life as a disabled person isn’t as valued as my able-bodied peers. This isn’t just an issue of media rhetoric and poor wording, but it also has practical consequences. For example, if the majority of the population are led to believe that they will not be severely affected by COVID-19 then they are less likely to follow the guidelines seriously that would help contain the virus.
The ableism argument spans across to the NHS. Early reports warn that those in ‘high-risk’ groups would not be prioritised for live-saving support if ventilators needed to be rationed in the event of a severe outbreak. A former leading nurse has also been reported saying that a ‘coronavirus pandemic would be useful in clearing the bed-blockers because older people would be taken out of the system.’ Although this nurse now sees the irony of her comment it still angers me. It turns this devastating situation into a Darwinistic survival of the fittest. One of the main precautions that the government is taking to try and slow the spread of the outbreak is deploying huge information campaigns to tell people how to keep prevent catching the disease and how to self isolate; however, this is done with a very ableist approach as the government offers no to little specify advice as to what to do if you are in the ‘high-risk group.’
The main thing I want you to take away from my anger and frustration at the ableist and ageist approach to the situation is that kindness, compassion and understanding are crucial at this time. Although you may be at low risk you will know many people who could be massively affected if they were to contract COVID-19. So please don’t panic but follow all precautions strictly, if not for yourself for your nan, or your friend with asthma or even for me. Please don’t stockpile food and supplies in a panic as this makes it tricky for the vulnerable in society that can’t access the shops every day. Just wash your hands regularly, discard of any snotty tissues and self-isolated if needed. Most importantly be kind.