How to Dismantle Systemic Ableism, According to Disabled People

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Since March 2020, Angela Meriquez Vázquez has been living with migraines, fatigue, brain fog, heart palpitations, and insomnia. The debilitating symptoms Vazquez experiences are a result of long COVID. According to an April 2022 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, around 30 percent of people in the United States who contract COVID-19 develop long COVID, a post-viral syndrome that has wide-ranging symptoms, and like other post-viral conditions such as post-polio syndrome, can have a significant impact on people’s lives. 

While trying to navigate her own new chronic health issues, Vázquez, who is the interim president of Body Politic, a wellness collective that has evolved to also support long COVID survivors, advocates for more research and improved policies related to long COVID.

“We are facing a wave of disability poverty with long COVID that we’ll be unable to grapple with if we cannot keep people in their homes and accessing necessary healthcare,” Vázquez said, who also has noted that Latinx people like herself and other people of color are more likely to develop this post-viral condition. In short, the pandemic has been called a mass-disabling event and shone a light on the many struggles the disability community faces: medication shortages, delays in care, inaccessibility, and poverty, and more. This reality shift could also be a trigger for change.

In 1990, survivors of polio helped push the United States to create the Americans with Disabilities Act, which turns 32 at the end of July. While it is not without its flaws, the concept of a social model of disability can be helpful when looking at disability justice solutions. This model operates under the assumption that people are not harmed by disability, but rather, there are societal barriers that make it difficult for disabled people to access care, services, and generally succeed in society. Accommodations knock down barriers, as does inclusion. 

For disability rights to truly succeed, we need a combination of changes at the local, state, and national levels. And there are individual actions each of us can take as well.

Nothing About Us Without Us 

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