We are experiencing a cultural reset, and we must include Deaf and Disability culture in our discussions of change

First-person essay by Fran Flaherty

The 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] was marked with celebration in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh hosted the 2016 Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disabilities Conference and showcased many of its museums, arts organizations and talents in the field of disability advocacy.

As a Deaf artist and immigrant from the Philippines, I had the opportunity to curate a visual arts exhibit that provided a group of international artists with disabilities the opportunity to show their work in Pittsburgh in conjunction with the LEAD conference. It was a celebratory time, and Pittsburgh represented it well.

In contrast, the 30th anniversary of the ADA is upon us and, much like everything else, the conference and celebrations have been put on hold because of COVID-19.

Ironically, it presents a situation that most people with disabilities deal with on a daily basis: vulnerability and isolation.

We have heard the reports from the World Health Organization and other medical organizations: We are all vulnerable to this virus regardless of age, sex or social status. There are some who believe that COVID-19 is “just another virus,” thus wanting to continue on with their lives and viewing mitigation strategies as inconvenient disruptions to our “normal” American way of living.

However, these disruptions are, in fact, a way to keep yourself and others safe from the virus and a gesture of care and compassion for others. The truth is, there are nearly 15.3 million confirmed cases in the world (as of July 23). Almost four million Americans are confirmed to have the virus, of whom more than 104,000 are Pennsylvanians, and at the time of this article, there have been more than 143,000 deaths in the United States due to illnesses related to COVID-19.

We are all at the mercy of this virus, and our actions dictate it. Self-isolation, mask-wearing, physical distancing and other precautions that we have taken are indicators of our vulnerability, and we need to acknowledge and humble ourselves to understand that we are all experiencing the same pandemic, but not equally.

While the coronavirus has become the master of our lives, the Black Lives Matter movement is the soul of it. COVID-19 has forced us to face our vulnerability, and the Black Lives Matter movement has asked us to bear the pain of (at least) the last four years and seek justice and change. The alleged murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by former police officer Derek Chauvin stoked a movement on the rise, from Rodney King to Rayshard Brooks. We cannot ignore the simultaneous call to action of these two situations

Fran Flaherty lies in the grass outside her Hampton Township home. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)




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