The COVID-19 pandemic has helped publicly display society’s ableism – discrimination against disabled people – an open lecture presented by Dalhousie University heard Friday.
Speaker Michael Ashley Stein, an American disabled-rights advocate and a law professor, said “we see it in the activities of various groups,” such as those whose members “are running around without regard for others – no masks, no protections.”
He said “it’s been very clear all the cracks in society that are coming to the front (due to COVID-19) could in some way be tied back to ableism.”
The pandemic is “not the great equalizer,” as some have maintained, Stein said during his public, online-only talk. He said those “who are privileged” and have better access to health-care resources will do better than members of the disabled community who don’t.
“What COVID has done, is it’s shone a really clear light on many of the gaps and inequalities that exist within our societies,” Stein said in a Zoom webinar.
He predicted those differences in opportunity and health-care access will also affect disabled people whenever a safe, efficient vaccine is made available.
“It’s going to be a problem.”
Stein is the co-founder and executive director of Harvard University’s Law School Project on Disability, and is considered an expert on disability law and policy at home and abroad. He participated in drafting the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a Harvard website says.
While the pandemic affects society at large, the UN says “persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.”
In Canada, the federal government has coronavirus-related information online for people with disabilities.
The provincial government says 30.4 per cent of Nova Scotians age 15 and older have at least one disability. It says the Canadian average is 22.3 per cent. (These figures are based on Statistics Canada information from 2017.)
According to the World Health Organization, actions for governments include making sure public-health information and communication are accessible to disabled citizens, and undertaking “targeted measures for people with disability and their support networks.”
Stein’s virtual lecture was organized by Dalhousie’s Health Law Institute, which runs a series of free, lunch-hour talks. He’s been using a wheelchair since age 14 when he was struck with a rare illness, according to The Boston Globe.
During his talk, Stein more than once criticized the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis. He said Washington’s handling of the situation has amounted to “foolishness and ineptitude.”
Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth