This month, I’d like to focus on my thoughts about the return to not wearing masks and to no longer having to stay home out of fear of getting exposed to COVID. First, it’s a little strange to be outside without a mask on, but I imagine we will keep wearing them out of caution. I would probably feel a lot better if more people would get their shots, but at least the people I care about are fully vaccinated. 

Somehow we made it through a year with few face-to-face encounters with those outside our immediate families, and watched an election year unfold into an embarrassing display of lying and attempts to overthrow our government with the former president’s backing. We saw the murder of George Floyd lead to the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin. One of my friends was arrested during the July protests, and others did in-patient programs for addiction and suicide prevention. I saw my sister struggle with anxiety, and my parents separate.

I also witnessed some wonderful hours spent at the ocean, more trips to the coast in twelve months than in all the years prior. I switched to purely online classes, and found they are less stressful and fit my lifestyle better. I have enjoyed two semesters of US history and Oregon history, but better yet, so have my parents who take turns reading my assigned work to me and being equally fascinated by Oregon’s troubled past regarding Native Americans, Blacks, Chinese immigrants, and the Japanese population living first in Hood River, then in internment camps scattered throughout the country. I started a new medication that seems to be helping in terms of flexibility and being less rigid. I am lonely, but everyone’s a bit lonely in this era of “the pandemic blues.”

All things considered, it has certainly been a difficult year for people with disabilities. We are dependent on our caregivers for daily needs, but for months they couldn’t come for fear that COVID could get passed around. Some of us could make the shift to virtual socializing, while most of us who rely on assistive technology had a hard time switching over. While we were included in the first group to get vaccinated, many of us couldn’t get appointments for weeks. Some got sick with COVID; a lot of us died. News stories about disabled people being pressured to sign DNR [Do Not Resuscitate] orders showed that our lives were not as valued when it came time to allocate scarce resources in hospitals.

We, the disability community, continue to act as a canary in the coalmine, but instead of noting the threat as a warning to others, society simply stocks the cage with new birds and goes on its way. As we enter a period of relaxed COVID restrictions, I can’t help but wonder: how many more disabled people will get sick and die because of it? How many is not that bad, i.e., an acceptable amount? 

Because if you’re willing to have disabled lives die, it tells me you are not one of us. It tells me you are ableist and prejudiced against people who arrived at disability while you haven’t yet. It’s an ugly portrait of nativism which, unfortunately, is widespread in our country. As I’m learning in my college class, our state’s history is replete with the perspective that there is always going to be someone who will lose what they have if a more powerful class of people decides it thus. Maybe history can teach us what to avoid doing to others who are different from us in some way? I fear we haven’t done a good enough job teaching our state’s history to each generation, since here we are again, leaving people with disabilities behind as we focus on a return to normal.

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