The views expressed here are for the author and do not represent any agency or organization.
Mugambi Paul is a public policy, diversity, inclusion and sustainability expert.
Australian Chief Minister Award winner
“excellence of making inclusion happen”
As COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we live and relate to one another, Kenyans with disabilities like me have been living in fear, not just of the virus, but of community attitudes to our lives and existence. The pandemic has brought to the forefront deeply ableist ideas held by our society that see disabled lives as disposable. Our lives are not worth living, and are not worthy of the same care and protection. Our deaths do not carry with them the same grief and sorrow that abled deaths do. We are casualties that must be accepted for the greater good of our economy.
This discourse has dangerously manifested in our hospitals, shaping COVID-19 triaging policies and the way medical professionals treat persons with disabilities– with or without the virus.
Globally, its evidently clear some nations they have disregard for lives of persons with disabilities.
People with disability have been identified as particularly “vulnerable” to this potentially deadly illness. If only we all had the freedom to decide who, and how many people, we have contact with in our own homes.
For instance, president of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed sadness over the death of Nathaniel Julius, a teenager with Down syndrome, during a police operation.
I have been continually shocked and angered by triaging guidelines that override shared decision-making processes, fail to acknowledge disproportionate rates of disability amongst already oppressed communities – such as rural and slum dwellers.
I affirm due to the changing times I have had from senior leaders, journalists, business persons who believe we should position life to normalcy.
It’s okay – COVID only really kills old and disabled people. If you’re young, you’re strong and healthy and won’t be at risk. The people who die from COVID don’t really have a quality of life anyway. We really do need to open up the economy for the rest of us. With resources so scarce and hospitals overwhelmed we need to priorities those of us who would actually survive.
For many persons with disabilities, hospitals are already traumatic places where we are spoken over, invalidated and dehumanized. Frequently they are places that deprive us of care, brutalize our bodies and result in our death. How do we begin to confront the even more explicit violence in our healthcare system COVID has triggered? When I think about the not-so-distant future, and try to imagine how our disability community is coping, I am filled with anguish thinking of the scars these triaging narratives will leave. I think of the trauma being resurfaced for hundreds of thousands of disabled people who have already suffered mistreatment at the hands of healthcare systems, and I think of those persons with disabilities who would’ve survived COVID, had things been different. I vow to remember them and keep working towards a world grounded in disability justice, where no one is disposable and we can receive the care that we need. As Mpofunamba1 articulates in one of the music track attitudinal barriers do exist where women with disabilties are even questioned which animal impregnated you. As f women with disabilities are not supposed to enjoy sex and give birth. Several studies have shown increase of gender-based violence against persons with disabilities.
Based on a biased understanding of appearance, functioning and behavior, many consider disability a misfortune that make life not worth living. To promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, we must dismantle social ableism and embrace disability as a positive aspect of the human experience.
The world’s population is ageing. By 2050, people over the age of 60 are expected to account for 21 per cent of the global population. About half of them will live with a disability, making this the largest community of persons with disabilities—and one of the most stigmatized and neglected.
The deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability is a human rights violation on a massive global scale. As Mpofunamba1 I say it is not a “necessary evil” but a consequence of the failure of States to ensure their obligations towards persons with disabilities.