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‘We Cannot Afford to Ignore Disabled Voices:’ Changing the Way We Talk About Covid

Disability rights activist and author Emily Ladau argues that ableist language holds us back from not only having more productive conversations about Covid, but developing more effective policies to confront the pandemic.

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Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, many people living with disabilities continue to feel that their heightened risk from the virus is often overlooked and discounted, amid raging debates about the desire to “get back to normal.” When glimmers of hope do arise, from vaccination accessibility to increased testing supply, continuing inequities leave many in the disability community unable to take advantage. (Increased at-home covid testing? The top tests in the market aren’t helpful for the visually impaired.)

For Emily Ladau, author of Demystifying Disability, an NPR and Booklist editors’ pick for 2021, silence around these challenges speaks volumes. “Disabled people have been sounding the alarm since the earliest days of the pandemic about the immense risks and about our fears of being left behind,” Ladau says. “Listening to and amplifying perspectives from the disability community has never been more urgent. We cannot afford to ignore disabled voices any longer. Far too many lives have been lost; far too many are at stake.”

Read on for her curated list of some of the most crucial journalism on how tangibly these oversights affect people whose lives have already been disproportionately upended by Covid, as well as tips for improving your understanding of ableism and the huge and diverse disability community.

Image by Malte Mueller/Getty Images

Maybe We Shouldn’t Go Back to Normal

Bri M.
The Nation

EL: “‘Normal’ rolled out the red carpet for COVID when it arrived. ’Normal’ places value judgments on people and roots out those most marginalized. ‘Normal’ doesn’t mean anything is fixed; it means we’re in our usual broken systems. Let’s tear ‘normal’ down.”

Emily Ladau

Emily Ladau is a passionate disability rights activist, writer, storyteller, and digital communications consultant whose career began at the age of 10, when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. Her writing has been published in outlets including The New York Times, SELF, Salon, Vice, and HuffPost and her first book, Demystifying Disability, was published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in September 2021. Emily has spoken before numerous audiences, from the U.S. Department of Education to the United Nations. Central to all of her work is a focus on and harnessing the power of storytelling as a tool for people to become engaged in disability and social justice issues.