We live in an unusual time. Over the past weeks and months, people globally have been quarantined to varying degrees in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. As we start the month of May, many states are beginning to lift restrictions on businesses, public gatherings, and recreation. Lifting restrictions was an inevitable part of the process, as it would be impossible to sustain an economy for an indefinite amount of time while locked down, but it comes with many risks. As we move forward with life during a pandemic, it is important to remind people that the threat still exists, and people with disabilities are particularly susceptible.
Life during a pandemic sucks. Tens of thousands have died, others are out of work, and many live with the fear and anxiety that accompany such uncertain times. Personally, I have not entered a building outside of my house since March 14. I have cut down on the number of caregivers that I allow in my house in order to limit my exposure. I do not know the exact number, but I have one caregiver who has not had a day off since the middle of March. I have been fortunate to remain healthy and have people who help me that I can trust.
As a member of an at-risk population, I do not know when life will return to normal. I am fortunate to be able to return to physical therapy soon, but it will look like entering the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Aside from physical therapy, I doubt that I will be able to do very much in the coming months. Restaurants are out of the question, stadiums (if fans are allowed) are not worth the risk, and virtually anywhere else people congregate will likely be off-limits. In short, I will do whatever I need to do for as long as I have to, in order to stay safe.
What concerns me the most is the apparent carelessness with which many people will act as restrictions continue to be lifted. In Michigan, we have had protesters at the Capitol with no regard for the safety of themselves or others, many golf courses are packed where social distancing is loosely enforced, and, despite orders from businesses and the governor, a significant number of people who refuse to wear masks. Michigan is not unique, as similar scenes are playing out across the country. The carelessness of others is the greatest threat to the safety of the millions of people living with disabilities and illnesses in the United States.
People with disabilities do not have the luxury of complete isolation when it is necessary. Not only will we be risking exposure any time we leave the house, we risk exposure from those who we rely on for assistance. No matter how careful our caregivers are, they will undoubtedly be exposed to the virus in their daily lives. All it takes for one of us, or one of our caregivers to become infected, is one encounter with a careless individual with no regard for the well-being of others.
Until the pandemic is over, it is likely that the visibility of people with disabilities in public will be limited. Most of us will be at home trying to stay safe. What I hope people will consider is that our families and caregivers will be out in public venues. Even though you may not see us, we are still at risk from the public’s carelessness. Being forced to wash your hands and wear a mask in public is not tyranny. It just might be the thing that saves a person’s life.
Written by Mike Franz
Mike is a C6 quad from Michigan who has been injured 16+ years.