Covid-19 ravaged many disenfranchised minority communities, making headlines as it tore through tribal lands and Black communities. But one that is seriously overlooked during this pandemic, and has been for centuries through many world events, is that of the disabled community.
In June of 2020, a report was filed by the disability advocacy organization Inclusion London reports that those with disabilities have received, or have been told they would receive inferior health care when it comes to the Coronavirus. This is not a new practice and has been going on for decades around the world. In the early 20th century, an interest in Eugenics had taken over many societies, namely Germany, and disabled people were seen as freeloaders who were useless to society. The Nazi party violently tried to rid their nation of those with disabilities through forced sterilization, then later “mercy killings” through lethal injections, mainly on children and young adults in care facilities. Eventually, the Nazis used the gas chamber in an attempt to complete their mission.
While this genocide of disabled people may not be as bad today, there are still obvious signs that disabled people are still seen as less than human, and their lives do not matter. One setting is in the medical field. It is reported that “in the U.S., several states including Tennessee, Washington, Kansas Pennsylvania and New York have issued protocols deprioritizing the treatment of disabled people in the event of scarce medical resources” (Forbes). Alabama was compelled in April by the Office for Civil Rights to abandon its crisis management policy of “denying ventilator services to individuals based on the presence of intellectual disabilities, including ‘profound mental retardation’ and ‘moderate to severe dementia” (Forbes). These practices are highly illegal, not to mention horribly immoral, according to “Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities oblige Governments to take all 11 necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of Disabled people in situations of risk, including situations of humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.” Many disabled people are struggling to receive food, or life saving aid. More horrifically though, many doctors are pressuring them to sign DNRs against their will or without proper explanations. This abuse of an entire demographic needs to be more thoroughly examined.
Many demographics have struggled for recognition and equal rights. These problems can peak when multiple minority identities intersect. This is called intersectionality, and the Oxford dictionary defines it as, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Disability is also included as a social categorization, and it is important to understand exactly what disability means. Many have images of people with physical disabilities come to mind, others remember previous interactions with mentally disabled individuals. A healthier and better way of viewing disability is a societal imposition on people who have impairments, making it more difficult for people to do certain activities or interact with the world around them. They are disabled because society has chosen to cater to those with certain abilities over others. Think of what would be different if the world was more understanding and education on mental health issues, or even just more wheelchair accessible. More resources on intersectionality can be found in the book by Wade and Ferree, found here. They discuss more in depth about the interactions between class, race, gender, ability, attractiveness, sexual orientation, and more,
When we think of intersectionality in the context of the medical field, the discrimination of different groups becomes clear. It is well known that women are often not believed by their doctors, but this problem is compounded when we notice that Black women are dying during childbirth at higher rates than other races. Native American men and women are being told that their symptoms are the result of alcoholism, despite not being alcoholics. Many overweight people are being told that their illnesses would be cured if they would lose weight, even though that is not the actual problem. Pair these problems above with being disabled. Doctors feel that they can illegally note DNRs on their disabled patients files when that is not the patient's wish, or the wish of their loved ones. This problem is emphasized when looking at disabled people of different races, genders, and socioeconomic groups. This is the type of genocide that takes hundreds of thousands of lives in a pandemic but is never openly talked about. If we are to continue building a better society, we need to expose the groups that are being overlooked, especially the disabled.