Social commentaries

Between Two Communities: Observations of Covid-19 as a disabled and non-binary person

May 22, 2020

Aych McArdle
Aych McArdle
Headshot of Aych's pink hair, large glasses and leather jacket

Human rights are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. They are a wonderful collection of words that mean you can’t choose who gets support and who gets left behind. We are all in this together.

However, in a global crisis, inequalities are brought into the light. Covid-19 has magnified the fight for dignity and access to healthcare that I embark on as both a non-binary and disabled person. The inequitable outcomes disabled and rainbow community members experience across the board, from housing to healthcare, education, and workplace inclusion, are now intensified in our pursuit to defeat this epidemic.

Disabled people’s lives are often out down to metrics in a crisis.

Elderly and disabled people in the UK were being encouraged to sign DNRs in the case that they contracted Covid-19. The NHS suggested that some lives should not have access to life-saving healthcare if needed. Human rights organizations have raised concerns about how queer people are being targetted as “carriers of disease” during this pandemic in some regions around the world. Concerns are developing that queer people, particularly gay men, are being denied access to Covid-19 testing based on their HIV status.

Our rainbow communities have already lived through one epidemic. They know that while a virus can kill, so can stigma.

As governments take unprecedented but necessary action to control the movement of their people around the world, police globally gain power. This presents several issues for both our rainbow and disabled whānau. Disabled people, in particular, are over-represented in prison numbers with access to appropriate justice mechanisms already limited.

The targeting of disabled people who are just existing in public space, alongside trans people, sex workers, and drug users, catches the eyes of police with boots that keep getting bigger. While this global pandemic reveals inequities and stigmas, it also provides us with an opportunity to strive for equity. It’s critically important to amplify the voices within and across our communities and strive for better.

Workplaces, too, are adapting with many people around the world working remotely or as front line service people with the protective gear they need. For many of us with disabilities, access accommodations, we have asked for have been instituted instantaneously, because the majority suddenly needed them.

Several years ago, I was headhunted for my dream job. The barrier? The particular office layout and the bright lights were not accessible for me. I reflected on this with the employer, and we both sighed. I didn’t ask if the job could be done remotely, and they didn’t offer. Now all their employees are working offsite with great efficiency. The lights and the layout of that office are gone. And the work is still being done.

There’s lots of talk about what is possible in a “Post Covid-19 World”. Do we want to keep the low air pollution and quiet city streets? Flexible work hours that accommodate family and other care responsibilities? Connectedness between neighbours? Yes to all of this.

But let’s think way bigger. Let’s centre universal design in how we approach what work looks like? Instead of keeping our communities on the outside, let’s centre them in our thinking.

If we do this, we create better solutions for everyone.