Can I Come Out Yet?

Can I Come Out Yet?

“Wow that chic out there is really losing it,” the man at the urinal said. My dad looked over.

“’That chic’ happens to be my daughter and she has every right to be angry. She’s immunocompromised and this venue has no safety protocols to help protect her.”

“Well,” said the pisser, “she should have stayed home.”

“Fuck you!” my dad shot back reflexively. He later regretted robbing me of the opportunity to tell this worm to fuck off myself. We had come up to Ogden to see my nephews and best friend dance in The Nutcracker. The year before I HAD stayed home. Besides COVID-19, I was battling breast cancer and didn’t feel my immune system was up for it. That year the theatre had required masks and had distance seating. With case numbers again on the rise, I assumed those safety measures would be maintained.

Nope. Nothing. Not even an 8½”x11” sign politely reminding people we were still in the midst of a global pandemic. When we arrived the lobby was packed and the only mask in sight was on the face of a conscientious usher. We waited for the lobby to clear than approached the unmasked manager. I was not in a good place right then. I had spent most of the day in a low-grade panic worrying about the potential risks in attending this show. On the ride up the panic grew. This would be the first time I had attended a live show of any kind in over a year. My parents and I had discussed strategy and exit plans as if we were planning for war. One could say we were.

Approaching the unmasked manager, the panic gave way to white hot anger.

“I completely understand,’ she calmly said. “My mom is immunocompromised and doesn’t feel safe going out.

“So where’s your mask?” I asked.

“Oh I’m vaccinated!” she declared proudly.

I stared.

“Would you like me to put one on?” she continued. I cocked my eye at her then proceeded to tell her why she should. The cognitive dissonance was maddening. Here was a woman with a mother who had been homebound for over a year and still didn’t feel safe. One would think she’d understand the reassuring gesture a mask represented. I too was vaccinated but chose to mask more for the palliative effect than any fear of contamination.  MY mask, after all, protected others far more than it did me. But when I saw others wearing a mask, I felt safe. It was a balm for my anxiety. At a time when state legislation is banning CDC-approved public health measures a mask sent a clear sign that you were one of the good guys; Team Science; Team Compassion. When I didn’t see a mask I usually defaulted to the “that-person-is-not-vaccinated” for the sake of my safety. And anti-vaxxers I knew where on Team Virus.

The message an unmasked face sent to disabled folks had been spoken out loud by that ass in the bathroom: “You should just stay home.” With each passing day we were reminded that we were unwelcome in society, unwanted in the public arenas, better not seen nor heard. We certainly didn’t feel there was any safe space for us. After the 2016 election, the need for safe spaces was clear and civilized society started creating them. Pink pussy hats blanketed DC. Pride flags and Black Lives Matter signs were put up in store-front windows. Churches were literally becoming sanctuaries for many in the harassed undocumented community. The color red reminded us not to forget our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters. Even something as simple as a safety pin worn on shirts and jackets became the silent marker that you were in safe company.

So I have a question for you, conscientious and vaccinated reader, why are you complicit in the unspoken banishment of people with disabilities? The media and our elected officials have increasingly declared Omicron not a big deal!……….unless you’re: elderly, disabled, chronically ill. Society has largely breathed a huge, COVID-laden breath of relief. Entirely too many folks now nonchalantly share their COVID status as just a thing that happened today, no biggie. But for my community, it remains a biggie. The National Council on Disabilities released a study last year that not only documented the mortality of disabled folks but also considered COVID’s effect on our education, ability to work and access to healthcare.

“In addition to the disproportionate fatalities, key findings of the report include:

  • People with disabilities faced a high risk of being triaged out of COVID-19 treatment when hospital beds, supplies, and personnel were scarce; were denied the use of their personal ventilator devices after admission to a hospital; and at times, were denied the assistance of critical support persons during hospital stays. Informal and formal Crisis Standards of Care (CSC), pronouncements that guided the provision of scare healthcare resources in surge situations, targeted people with certain disabilities for denial of care.
  • Students with disabilities were denied necessary educational services and supports during the pandemic and have experienced disruption and regression in their behavioral and educational goals;
  • The growing shortage of direct care workers in existence prior to the pandemic became worse during the pandemic. Many such workers, who are women of color earning less than a living wage and lacking health benefits, left their positions for fear of contracting and spreading the virus, leaving people with disabilities and their caregivers without aid and some at risk of losing their independence or being institutionalized.
  • Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deaf-Blind, and Blind persons faced a profound communication gulf as masks became commonplace, making lipreading impossible and sign language harder.”

National Council on Disability, October 2021

The next time you think it’s a hassle to put on that damned mask, please consider the message you’re sending. Are you complicit in the anti-vax experiment with societal eugenics? Or are you going to tell me you want me here. That you see me. That you value me. That you respect me. So let’s go folks! Add a little extra hassle to your day and wear that mask! The disabled community needs their safety pin.