​Your Disabled Life is Worthy

Posted by Stephanie Woodward in Life After Paralysis on January 18, 2022 # COVID-19, Health

man in mask.Since the pandemic began, the Disability Community has been worried that society – and especially people in the medical community – view our lives as less worthy of living, and therefore, less worthy of saving. I have previously written about how doctors’ perceptions of disabled people can put our lives at risk and how medical providers in Texas refused to provide lifesaving treatment to a quadriplegic man with COVID-19. These stories helped to demonstrate that our fears are not unfounded; however, on January 7, 2022, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, finally confirmed our fears by saying out loud what we’ve known all along – that disabled lives are considered disposable.

Last Friday, while being interviewed by Good Morning America about coronavirus deaths, Director Walensky said, “The overwhelming number of deaths — over 75 percent — occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell, to begin with. It’s really encouraging news in the context of Omicron.”

Her statement – that she believes that it’s encouraging that more than 75% of coronavirus deaths were people with comorbidities (i.e., disabled people) – surprised approximately no one in the Disability Community. The only surprising part was that Director Walensky actually said it out loud.

It took the (exhausted) Disability Community all of 30 seconds to begin our collective response, reminding Director Walensky, the American government, and society in general – yet again – that disabled lives are worth living. In fact, many people with disabilities began using #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy on Twitter to reply to Director Walensky’s callous remarks.

Image of tweets from @weeping_fig and @SFdirewolf

Not only is the Disability Community reminding the world that our lives are worth living – we’re also reminding the world that we’re tired of having to remind them of this. Twitter user @weeping_fig wrote, “The fact that #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy even has to be a hashtag is SAD! It’s absolutely unfair to each and everyone of us to hear that our lives are disposable. And everyone of you ableds that refuses to do the right thing for the entire population should be ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES,” and @SFdirewolf replied, “I am also intensely uncomfortable at the need to defend our humanity and worth. Too much of my life has been centered on nondisabled expectations. And yet, this is where we are. #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy #HighRiskCOVID19 #NEISvoid #DisabilityTwitter #CripTheVote #LongCOVID”

On January 13, 2022, the Disability Community sent a letter to Dr. Walensky emphasizing that people with “four or more comorbidities” are not only people with disabilities, but are often multiply-marginalized people with disabilities and that the deaths of people with four or more comorbidities are not “encouraging,” but instead, is the result of systemic failures. This letter, which was signed by over 100 organizations, makes three demands: (1) Commit to regular ongoing meetings and consultation with disability stakeholders and CDC Leadership; (2) Ground isolation guidance in public health evidence and data and in an understanding of their impacts on those most at risk; and (3) Take action to center people with disabilities—and other communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—by ensuring that all CDC COVID-19 guidance and other response efforts are inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities.

On Friday, January 14, Director Walensky met with leaders of some disability organizations, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, and the Little Lobbyists. During the meeting, representatives from the disability organizations sought to hold Dr. Walensky accountable for her statements, establish a working relationship with the CDC, and have a discussion with Director Walensky about policies the CDC should implement to prioritize the health and safety of the Disability Community. While Director Walensky apologized for her comments to the representatives behind closed doors, she has yet to publicly apologize for the harm she has caused our community. Furthermore, because we all know that actions speak louder than words, it is notable that Director Walenksy committed to regular meetings with the Disability Community going forward.

Only time will tell if Director Walensky and the CDC are genuinely committed to working with the Disability Community, but I have a feeling we will not have to wait too long to have our answer. In the meantime, I want you all to know that your lives are worth living and you are valued.

Stephanie Woodward is an attorney and Executive Director of Disability EmpowHer Network, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls and women with disabilities. Stephanie is passionate about seeking justice for marginalized communities - and has an arrest record to show for it. As a proud disabled woman and civil rights activist, Stephanie is committed to bringing more women and girls with disabilities to the forefront through mentoring and activism.

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.