COVID Story – A new promise to include people with disability

Giancarlo de Vera

The Coronavirus pandemic exposed how fragile our world is. For the first time, everyone on this large and diverse planet we  call home, all realised how everyday things like the freedom to move, hugging loved ones and even being confident to breathe the air outside,  could all be taken away from us. For the first time, we all faced an invisible enemy that no one was prepared for.

Despite the virus being foreign to us, these experiences are not foreign to people with disability. Ableism is the invisible enemy that people with disability face every day, and it’s testing no matter how prepared we are for an ableist world. People with disability don’t always have the freedom to move because places remain inaccessible, and requires a lot of support. Hugging loved ones can be a luxury for people with disability, who often experience social isolation and segregation. Even not being able to breathe air outside can be a common experience for people with disability.

So when the world responded to the pandemic, we wanted the world to simply not leave us behind. Our experiences of the world is not the same as everyone else, because we face so many barriers to living and participating in the world around us. Despite wanting to be part of the social, political, economic and cultural life of the people around us, we often aren’t able to because the world forgets about us, segregates us, doesn’t want to be around us, and think we are a burden on them. So when the world responded to the pandemic, we wanted the world to simply not leave us behind.

Yet, this is exactly want happened. As Australia announced plans to take action, we were left wondering what about us? As Australia planned to how to prepare for the worst, we weren’t even spoken to. As pandemic news flooded everyone’s homes and the situation changed drastically, we weren’t even told in a way that we could understand. We were simply left behind.

As the world worried about how ICUs would have the capacity to manage a public health crisis, people with disability knew our lives would not be valued, and so we were confronted with possibility that we may be left behind for good.

Faced with the possibility of our lives being decided by someone else, people with disability stood together. We had no choice. We had to fight for our lives. Despite being a diverse community, we found a common cause and a common voice, and fought for our voice to be heard. We banded together and advocated for us to be not left behind and to be listened to. We made it clear to the National Cabinet that this pandemic effected everyone, including us.

It took weeks of making noise before the Australian Government heard us. By early April, the Government took their job of including us seriously and created an Advisory Committee to advise the National Cabinet. The Committee’s job was to create a plan to ensure people with disability were not left behind. While the plan wasn’t perfect, it was released a few weeks later after the Government decided to take action.

However, people with disability had to fight for action to happen. We already fight every day to be included just like everyone else, and this fight was not a fight we had to have.

We shouldn’t have to advocate so much for our voice to be heard, just so our lives could be valued, but in this pandemic we did. We’re tired of being an afterthought. This pandemic demonstrated just how fragile the world is, and so we hope efforts to rebuild comes with a renewed promise to people with disability that we belong here too. Working side-by-side is the only way to recover from this pandemic, and we now have the new opportunity to build a world that includes people with disability.