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WID Webinar – Global Digital Accessibility: Why Digital Accessibility is a Must-Have for Businesses

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The World Institute on Disability proudly celebrates the 10th anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day! Please join us, our accessibility experts, and usability testing clients for a free webinar to learn how businesses can become accessible for people with disabilities. Learn why accessibility matters to your business revenue, litigation risk, customer experience, and brand. This one hour webinar will include a live Q&A session with our access experts.

Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 1 PM PST/4 PM EST/8 PM UTC

Captions in English and ASL will be provided.

Link to register to attend:

For more information or to request our social media kit for promoting this event, email


This event will include remarks from the following speakers:

Kat Zigmont, headshot

Kat Zigmont

Senior Director of Operations and Deputy Director

World Institute on Disability

Dustin Snowadzky headshot.

Dustin Snowadzky

Technology Specialist

World Institute on Disability

Christina Clift, a Black woman with shoulder length dark brown hair and oval framed glasses.

Christina Clift

Consumer Advocate

Memphis Center for Independent Living

WID Usability Tester

Elizabeth Vega headshot. An adult woman with light skin, long silver and brown hair, and rectangular glasses.

Elizabeth Vega

Assistant Vice President of UX Design and Improvements

TracFone Wireless

Jim Zimmerman headshot; adult man with light skin and silver hair.

Jim Zimmerman

Senior Officer, Customer Care & Operations

TracFone Wireless

Tali Bray, headshot. An adult woman with light skin and shoulder length brown hair .

Tali Bray

Executive Vice President, Head of Technology Diverse Segments, Representation and Inclusion

Wells Fargo

WID Board Member

Frances West headshot. An Asian adult woman with chin length black hair.

Frances West

Founder, FrancesWestCo

Chair of Strategy & Development Committee, The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information Communication Technologies (G3ict)

WID Board Member

Neil Milliken, headshot. A white adult man with short brown hair.

Neil Milliken

Global Head of Inclusion, Corporate Social Responsibility


WID Board Member

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Meet the Panelists: Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation

Meet the Moderator, Guest Speaker and Panelists for GADRA’s Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation event, on Thursday, February 18, 2021.

This free webinar will be one hour long, and will begin at 12 PM EST/5 PM UTC. Captions in English and International Sign will be provided.

Link to register to attend Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation

Andraéa is the founder and president of LaVant Consulting, Inc. (LCI), a social impact communications firm that offers cutting-edge corporate development and content  marketing for brands and nonprofits. LCI’s specialty is helping brands “speak disability  with confidence.”

As a communications consultant and inclusion specialist, Andraéa has over a decade of experience working with programs that support youth and adults with disabilities and other underserved populations. She currently serves as  the impact producer for Netflix’s feature-length documentary, Crip Camp, where she is charged with leading the campaign’s efforts to promote understanding of disability as a  social justice issue and build across lines of difference.

Graphic with photo of Curtis, an African-American/Black male with black beard. He is wearing a dark blue jacket, light blue shirt, and striped white, yellow, blue and black neck-tie. A flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia is in the background. Beside the photo of Curtis is a quote from him reading: ““Prioritizing marginalized people and integrating equity into all aspects of disaster response is urgently needed as we continue to face more frequent and devastating disasters across the globe. I am excited to participate in this upcoming session to discuss the experiences of Black people with disabilities during COVID-19 and other disasters.”

Curtis has homeland security and emergency management experience at the federal, state, and local levels. He currently serves as the State Coordinator (Director) of Emergency Management at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).

In 2018, he co-founded the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM) a non-profit organization dedicated to diversify the field of emergency management and promote the application of equitable practices to improve disaster outcomes and build community resilience for the most vulnerable communities. Curtis is recognized as a Certified Emergency Manager by the International Association of Emergency Managers. He serves on the Equitable Climate Resilience Advisory Panel for the Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) and FEMA’s Mitigation Framework Leadership Group.

We are excited to announce Leroy F. Moore Jr. as one of our Black disabled panelists for GADRA’s ‘Experiences of Black Disabled People During & After Disasters: A Global Conversation’ event which will take place on February 18!

Leroy F. Moore Jr., founder of Krip-Hop Nation has been a key member of Poor Magazine since the 1990’s. Moore’s work with Poor Magazine began with his column “Illin-N-Chillin.” He went on to become a founding member of Poor Magazine’s Homefulness and Decolonize Academy. Moore is also one of the founding members of National Black Disability and activist whose work centers around police brutality against people with disabilities. His cultural work includes the documentary film, “Where Is Hope: Police Brutality Against People with Disabilities,” spoken-word CDs, poetry books and children’s book, “Black Disabled Art History 101.”

Image ID: Graphic of Yusuf, a brown man with black hair, wearing glasses and native Nigerian attire known as a qubè and kaftan. He is smiling and looking to his left. Beside him is a quote from him reading: “This is a timely conversation to ‘Build Back Better.’ I hope to discuss what is done, or could be done, to cushion the effects of inflation of imported items during COVID-19 such as food and medical supplies His Twitter username is: m_dyks069. His Instagram username is m_dyks069. His Facebook page can be found at”

Yusuf is a high school literature teacher in Nigeria and Project Coordinator at the Special Needs Initiative for Growth, located in Northern Nigeria.

“Literature is a field that suits me so well, because it draws from social, economic and political events from across history and geography,” he says.

Yusuf says. literature affords him the avenue to excel in understanding the world and explaining it to his students.

Yusuf started to get more involved with advocacy in 2019, during his year of national service, when he joined a Community Development Service group for Sustainable Development Goals.

Graphic with image of Vivienne Isebor, a Black woman with afro hair held by a headband with mixed colored prints smiles looking downward. She is wearing wooden earrings with the Ghanian Adinkra symbol - Mmere Dane, an orange Igbo traditional necklace and an orange sleeveless top. Beside her is a quote reading: “Black people in the West and specifically in Britain are failed by many systems, including healthcare and social support services. This is evident in the overrepresenation within mental health services and high rates of risk with COVID-19. When considering intersectionality, Black people with disabilities are even more at risk and have therefore been forced to survive through community.”

Since being diagnosed with ADHD in her early 20’s and living with mental health difficulties, Vivienne has run awareness sessions and advocated on platforms such as BBC, Mental Health Today and Mind. Isebor is a Trainee Clinical Associate in Psychology, currently studying part-time at UCL and working with individuals with Complex Emotion Needs in East London. She is also a founder of ADHD Babes – the first support group for Black Women and Black Non-binary people with ADHD, where she is the Director of Community Outreach and Wellbeing.

She says ADHD Babes is an example of the community coming together to fill gaps that services create through systematic racism and neglect. ADHD Babes focuses on Black women and Black non-binary people due to the combined challenges they face through the many parts of their living experience including: race, gender (including being gender non-confirming), disability and class.

“When we consider how difficult it is for women with ADHD to get support it is of great concern how marginalised Black women will be within the very same system. Creating this space has been a saving grace for me as an individual and a member of the community. We show up for ourselves each time to offer a safety away from the world that has shown us time and time again we do not matter. We are changing that narrative for ourselves and redefining what it means to be Black with ADHD,” Isebor says.

Graphic with photo of Kaman Kelly Wasup, a Black man with a tropical green button down shirt, long beard, and sunglasses standing in front of a white background. Beside Kaman is a quote reading, “As a Black person and as a person with disability, visual impairment, l observed that Covid 19 news was just a story in the media in Papua New Guinea until the government imposed the shutdown. The delay in getting the news digested into everyone’s mind for awareness and preparedness was as a result of our multicultural practices and systems which made it difficult to process the vital information and news.”

Kaman is the Treasurer at PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons and Chairman at PNG Blind Union in Papua New Guinea. Kaman has facilitated systematic advocacy trainings on disability inclusion since 2018. During Kaman’s trainings, people with disabilities gather to partake in formal and informal advocacy activities. Kaman also runs focus group discussions regarding topics such as utilizing mainstream media for advocacy.

“As a black person and as a person with disability, visual impairment, l observed that Covid 19 news was just a story in the media in Papua New Guinea until the government imposed the shutdown. The delay in getting the news digested into everyone’s mind for awareness and preparedness was as a result of our multicultural practices and systems which made it difficult to process the vital information and news,” Kaman says.

Graphic with photo of Anita, a Black woman with long locs, wearing a maroon turtleneck sweater. Beside the photo is a quote from her reading: “I'm excited to share my experiences as a Black disabled person in the emergency preparedness arena. Blacks and disabled are often left behind in disasters. We must make sure that this ends in our country!”

As a Black Disabled Lesbian, Anita has dealt with racisim, sexism, ableism, and homophobia – sometimes combinations of these. She has used her experience of discrimination and her unique intersectional perspective to promote understanding among different groups of disenfranchised people and increase social justice among those fighting for social justice.

Anita began working as Not Dead Yet’s Director of Minority Outreach in January 2017. She has met with national and state policy makers and written persuasively about opposition to a public policy of assisted suicide from the perspective of communities of color who experience disparities in access to healthcare.

From 2004-2006, she worked at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in Washington, DC, as the DC Metro Disability Vote Organizer. Anita also worked as Systems Advocate for the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, NY, from 2006-2010.

Anita also serves on the National Disability Leadership Alliance’s Steering Committee, as well as it’s Racism Taskforce, and co-Chaired the Intersectional Justice Committee for ADAPT.

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: How Indian Disability Non-profits are Evolving to Face the Challenges of COVID-19. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of Arundhati Nath, an Indian woman with shoulder length black hair. She is wearing a bright patterned top.

COVID Blog: How Indian Disability Non-profits are Evolving to Face the Challenges of COVID-19

By Arundhati Nath

From global containment failures to the improper development of disaster-resistant systems, COVID-19 has severely affected the economic, social, educational, and healthcare requirements of all individuals, especially those with disabilities. In India, where people with disabilities have traditionally faced adversity because of inaccessibility and stigmatization, this reality is clear. 

When the pandemic hit, funding for non-profit organizations that support people with disabilities diminished. Businesses ceased donating to accommodate for their decreased profits, and any other available contributions shifted to the government’s COVID-19 relief fund, exacerbating the societal effects of the virus and inhibiting the already limited aid that organizations could provide. 

“In April, when I called up a company that had promised to fund us earlier, they had expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to donate… During the pandemic, as funding has been hit, we had to reduce staff members and are unable to take up any new activities because there is a constraint on available budgets” says Ramya Miryala, Director, Deaf Enabled Foundation, Hyderabad. 

Puducherry-based 25-year-old Satish Kumar is a deaf small business owner with a speech disability. With four family members who are dependent on him, he has felt the direct impact of the pandemic and the reduction of assistance. “Since the lockdown started, we are using the basic essentials very carefully in smaller quantities so that we don’t waste much on it,” Satish says.

Satish and individuals like him are sacrificing and re-adjusting to the new reality of support to protect their families’ wellbeing with self-determination, but millions of Indians with disabilities still do not have their essential needs met, exposing the weaknesses of the pre-COVID support system that identified people with disabilities as just targets of charity.

People with disabilities like Satish are resilient and capable of helping themselves with the proper training, accommodations, and resources. Fortunately, non-profit organizations are beginning to take notice and adapt to a model of support that chooses to empower individuals with disabilities instead of solely depending on the contribution of others. Ramya Miryala’s organization, Deaf Enabled Foundation, is “an organization of the Deaf, for the Deaf, and by the Deaf”, and has noticed that these services are in even higher demand since the onset of the pandemic. “We have seen a surge in deaf people signing up for our free employment-led, skill development online workshops, and we are helping them as best as we can,” says Miryala.

Some empowerment-focused non-profit organizations, like the Delhi-based SCORE Foundation and the NCPEDP, are aiding people with disabilities through dedicated telephone help lines, which provide critical information and answer any questions that someone may have during the current crisis. These organizations are also conducting webinars and online events that teach people how to handle the emotional toll of the pandemic while living with a disability in India. However, the effects of COVID-19 extend beyond the lives of adults with disabilities and require non-profit organizations to also find innovative solutions for providing students with disabilities access to online learning.

With educational institutions closed due to the spread of the virus, accessibility to online education has been a problem for a multitude of children with disabilities. Many parents cannot afford essential technology like laptops, mobile phones or accessible software. Even for those who can, it has not been easy: numerous educational platforms are inaccessible, teachers are inadequately trained, and people fail to understand students’ accessibility needs. 

To counter the challenges posed by online learning and reinforce a sense of empowerment, some non-profit organizations have been conducting accessible online classes, art activities, and recreational sessions, creating an inclusive education and some fun during the pandemic.

There is little doubt that the pandemic has made life challenging for everyone, depleted resources, and generated untold uncertainty. Yet, it has revealed the vulnerabilities in the former system – calling for fundamental change in how we help those with disabilities. As non-profit organizations continue to work hard, evolve, and find new ways to assist adults and children with disabilities, we must embrace a resilient perspective on disability that demands equity and asserts the capabilities and dignity of every human being. 

Links to sources mentioned & references, in order of appearance:

Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES). PM CARES website

National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP). NCPEDP website

The Hindu. “Online classes make learning curve steeper for children with disabilities”, by K.C. Deepika. July 8, 2020.

Indian Express. “Many students with disabilities struggling with e-education, NGOs call for more accessible approach”, by PTI. June 21, 2020.

Efforts For Good. “Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States”. April 19, 2020.

The Quint. “India’s COVID Crisis: Why Govt Should’ve Worked With Civil Society”, by Dr. Priyadarshini Singh. September 1, 2020.

CRISIL Foundation. “Pandemic could devour bulk of CSR kitty this year”. June 9, 2020.

IndiaSpend. “PM CARES Received At Least $1.27 Bn In Donations–Enough To Fund Over 21.5 Mn COVID-19 Tests”, by Anoo Bhuyan, Prachi Salve. May 20, 2020.

FirstPost. “COVID-19 impact is massive, but other social causes need CSR funding too, say NGOs”. August 5, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of Arundhati Nath, an Indian woman with shoulder length black hair. She is wearing a bright patterned top.

Arundhati Nath is a full-time, visually impaired freelance journalist and children’s author from Guwahati in Northeast India. She writes about disability and human rights, development, women’s issues, healthcare, culture, the environment, wildlife and conservation. She has been published in The Guardian, BBC News, CSMonitor, Aljazeera English, BBC Wildlife, South China Morning Post, Reader’s Digest and several others. 

Arundhati can be reached at and her work can be viewed online at her website,

Would you like to write a blog post about your COVID-19 experiences as a person with a disability or a disability-led organization? Submit a blog pitch via this form.

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Global Young Leaders with Disabilities Provide Recommendations on Disaster Inclusion Work in Call-to-Action

Screenshot of zoom meeting with performer Jennifer Msumba singing and playing guitar, while an International Sign interpreter, Carol Aquiline, signs alongside her. Caption reads: See it's time to write a new song.

In recognition of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), the Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration (GADRA) is proud to release an open captioned recording of Global Disability + Disasters Panel: A Conversation with Young Leaders. Hosted by the World Institute on Disability (WID) and moderated by Priya Penner of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies (The Partnership), the November 19, 2020 online event featured four young leaders with disabilities addressing critical policy and program perspectives regarding their inclusion work in four different countries. 

The 90-minute online event started with Jennifer Msumba, the award winning filmmaker and musician, delivering her debut performance of RISE UP, an youth anthem she created specifically for GADRA. The song reframed the debate and set the stage for the panelists’ call to action, including these words:

see it’s time to write a new song 

broken and weak? Yeah, you were wrong

we’re taking our place and we’re standing strong

Rise up!

After her performance, Jennifer explained her song is meant to be strong, defiant and have strength which was a perfect transition to the event’s panelists, listed below.  

  • Sabrina Epstein, Student Researcher and Communications Intern, The Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center, Senior, Johns Hopkins University, United States.  Learn more about Sabrina’s work at: Find Sabrina on Twitter: @SabrinaTessEp  
  • Minerva Green, Sophomore, Student Government Association, The University of The Bahamas, The Bahamas. Learn more about Minerva’s work at:   
  • Borbála Ivicsics, International Communications Manager, FreeKey, Hungary.  Learn more about Bori’s work with FreeKey at: Bori is on Twitter at: @ivicsicsbori 
  • Faith Njahîra, Independent Consultant and Co-Founder, Muscular Dystrophy Society Kenya. Faith is on Twitter at: @faywangari

As a moderated panel, speakers addressed how their work and lives have been impacted by COVID-19, reviewed their innovative work and how it intersects with the global pandemic and disaster resilience, and then provided the following recommendations as a call-to-action moving forward. 

  • Educate young leaders on how to prepare for disasters, behave during disasters and how to best access assistance and help after the disasters;
  • Identify how to access resources to support disaster preparedness and recovery;
  • Ensure personal assistance services are widely available, with safety protocols for all parties supported through training and funding;
  • Establish guidance to ensure no lapse in healthcare for people with disabilities;
  • Commit to disaster briefings and emergency announcements include sign language interpreters;
  • Design accessible technology resources and other accommodations for youth and young adults with disabilities in educational settings, including from homes;
  • Provide flexibility in funding to empower people with disabilities to resource their own needs (shifting resources from transportation to distance-based technology when and if the change is warranted);
  • Incorporate Disability Justice in our work, recognizing intersectionality and centering Black, Brown, Indigenous and queer disabled people who are the true experts in disability justice work;
  • Include more people with disabilities at decision points so we are no longer excluded;
  • Acknowledge that mentees may be more knowledgeable than mentors (as elders) and allow young people to shine;
  • Understand that young people have different viewpoints and we ask for you to embrace our approaches and techniques; 
  • Accept that when we point out issues, we are not working against you but rather pointing out that there are ways that we can all do things better;
  • Recruit youth and young adults with disabilities involved in your work.

These 13 recommendations and themes create a road map/resource list for us all.  However, the words of wisdom from these four global young leaders is best received directly by them through the recording! On the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Team GADRA offers the Young Leaders Conversation recording and recommends sharing these stories from Sabrina, Minerva, Bori, and Faith in your organizations and communications channels.  

The panel was made possible with the support of GADRA’s Executive Committee Members and Founder’s Circle. Appropriately, the event included supportive remarks from three key supporters:

  • Tali Bray, CIO, Enterprise Services & Portfolio Management, Wells Fargo (WID Board of Directors);
  • Elaine Katz, Senior Vice President for Grants and Communication, Kessler Foundation (GADRA Founder’s Circle Member);
  • Isabel Hodge, Executive Director for the United States International Council on Disabilities (GADRA Founders Circle Member) and Vice President of Disabled Peoples’ International North America Caribbean.

Event from the United Nations: Action Toward a Disability-Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post-COVID-19 World

December 4, 2020 11 AM to 12:45 PM EST

The event will include representatives of Member States, UN offices, organizations of persons with disabilities, civil society, and the private sector. It will emphasize the importance of disability-inclusive responses to COVID-19 and take stock of progress in “building back better,” including addressing the global policy framework on disability-inclusive development newly adopted by the General Assembly Third Committee this past November. 

Link to learn more about the UN’s IDPD event

Links to learn more about GADRA

Learn more about GADRA, including how to join us, by selecting the linked image:

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To learn more about the Global Disability and Disaster Town Hall meetings, including video recordings,  transcripts, and polling results from previous sessions, visit the Global Disability and Disaster Town Hall page and COVID-19 page on WID’s website via the linked images below:

Text: Global Disability + Disaster Town Hall Meetings. Collage of ears, speech bubbles, hands signing, and a hand using a communication board.
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Banner with text: COVID Blog: My Disability-Led Workplace Handled COVID-19 Better Than My School and Hospitals by listening to young disabled people. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of Issy Orosz, a young white disabled person with short brown and lavender hair. They are wearing a plaid blazer, black turtleneck sweater, and round glasses.

COVID Blog: My Disability-Led Workplace Handled COVID-19 Better Than My School and Hospitals By Listening to Young Disabled People

by Issy Orosz

As a disabled and queer young person, I wear several “hats” including: a final year high school student, a worker in the disability sector, and someone who has had multiple long-term hospital stays. During the pandemic, my collection of “hats” has filled my life with complexity, confusion, and intensity.  

COVID-19 made my life as a disabled person challenging. Before the pandemic, I relied on consistent supports to maintain my health and wellbeing, however, lockdowns demolished these resources and routines – almost overnight. 

In my last year of highschool, amidst COVID-19 and a failed governmental response, all my classes chaotically shifted online with limited flexibility and capacity for personal differences. This uprooted the foundation that I needed whenever my mental and physical health began to collapse. Instead of focusing on academic success, I was forced to accommodate an already inaccessible education system by lowering expectations of myself. 

These changes severely impacted my mental and physical health. Out of necessity, I sought psychiatric help. Again,even in crisis, after I found a doctor and was admitted to the hospital, I was required to accept and accommodate an antiquated medical system, where I was frequently misgendered, invalidated, and triggered. While I am grateful to have access to a place that guaranteed 24/7 food, safety, and support, I did not completely receive the help that I needed, and I was required to be admitted again, three months after my initial month-long hospital stay.  

Now, as I write this, in the third week of my second hospital stay, I am proud that I know that I am not well enough to leave yet. Yes, it is even more isolating being in a hospital during COVID-19, but I am not better. I am not well. Nevertheless, I am working on it, in arguably the hardest time to work on it, which, for me, is enough.

Despite the adversity faced in the education and medical systems, I have been immensely privileged to be employed as a lived-experience workshop facilitator in a youth disability advocacy service. In fact, I have even had the opportunity to take on extra hours to focus on a pandemic response project. 

Unlike in other areas of my life, the people that I work with are also disabled young people. This has meant that in response to the pandemic, equipped with the understanding and voices of disabled young people, my workplace has been extremely supportive, granting me the opportunity to successfully transition to remote working. Furthermore, when my capacity to work was altered, the organization accommodated and validated my needs.  

The failure of other institutions to meet my needs is apparent and frustrating, especially when juxtaposed to my employer.  

I am abundantly aware of the rarity of a situation as positive as mine in the context of work. Most work environments are just as inaccessible as other institutions. Yet, why should they be? By providing me with the resources and assistance that I needed, I was able to protect my health, contribute meaningfully to my work and the world around me, and succeed. If we provide disabled people the accommodations that suit our individual needs in all aspects of life, we can level the playing field and give us the opportunity to display and reach our potential.    

This period has been the hardest of my life. I have been the most unwell and unstable as ever while being ignored and put at risk by all except my employer.

I genuinely cannot tell you what next week will look like – let alone the end of 2020 and beyond. The nature of being disabled, especially during a time as extreme and unforgiving as this pandemic, is that we are underrepresented and asked to accept broken systems. I have seen that to its fullest extent. However, I will do as much as I can to make it through next week, the rest of 2020, and whatever exists past then. The disability community is strong, and with their support and strength, we can make our voices heard and create a more flexible, accommodating, and kind world, post COVID-19.

About the author

Photo of Issy Orosz, a young white disabled person with short brown and lavender hair. They are wearing a plaid blazer, black turtleneck sweater, and round glasses.

Issy (they/them) is a 17 year old queer and disabled person. They live in Naarm (or so called Melbourne, Australia). They work in the disability and youth space and frequently present and write about disability, education, queerness, social justice, and intersectionality, all from their lived experience. You can find them on social media @issyhay. Their website is

Would you like to write a blog post about your COVID-19 experiences as a person with a disability or a disability-led organization? Submit a blog pitch via this form.

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: Chines Women with Disabilities in COVID-19. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of LuanJiao Aggie Hu, a Chinese woman with a disability. She is smiling, and wearing a beautiful cheongsam with pink trim.

COVID Blog: Chinese Women with Disabilities in COVID-19

by Luanjiao Aggie Hu

Disabled women account for one fifth of global population and over half among all people with disabilities worldwide. Global literature has often documented disabled women’s multiple disadvantages based on gender, disability, and oftentimes poverty status. Disabled women are considered a multiply marginalized population, in that their marginalization occurs based on gender, disability, and the specific experiences of women with disabilities. They often have less educational attainments, lower employment rates, less access to healthcare services, etc. Limited research on Chinese disabled women has further revealed the multitude of challenges they face. 

In China, Covid-19 surfaced in media in January, peaked in February, and seemingly came to an end in March. For months, Chinese people were under strict lock-down policies. News reported the surge of domestic violence against women during this time. How did Chinese disabled women fare in the pandemic? A Beijing-based organization – Beijing Enabled Sister Center realized the urgency and coordinated the distribution of sanitary pads and diapers for women with disabilities in need among other assistances. The organization also encouraged disabled women to share their experiences and stories during lockdown. As a Chinese disabled woman studying abroad, I contributed a piece detailing my own experience and perspective during Covid-19. As a researcher with disability, I took interest in the stories and studied the narratives from around 30 disabled women who were of diverse geographic locations, socioeconomic statuses and disability categories. In addition, I examined news on gender and disability in Covid-19 and talked to disabled women leaders to learn about the changes in their lives. Summarizing different ways in which disabled women were impacted, I realized that the women’s voices revealed more than what the literature documented.

To start, the narratives showed difficulties disabled women experienced in the crisis. At the threat of the pandemic, disabled women expressed their higher risk of infection and mortality. While navigating in a quarantined version of daily environments, vision or mobility impaired women found themselves at higher risk of getting infected due to assistive devices touching contaminated surfaces or use-of-touch in daily lives. Concerned about their underlying conditions and immunocompromised physiological statuses, disabled women voiced that they would not survive if infected. Some women had to cancel or delay their doctor’s appointments and/or personal assistant’s home visits in fear of increased exposure and possible infection. 

Second, disabled women faced challenges accessing information, supplies, food, transportation, and healthcare services during quarantine. When the pandemic hit, rarely any news channels in China provided sign language interpretation or closed captioning. In Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, the deaf and hard-of-hearing community lagged behind in obtaining COVID-related information; therefore, they experienced the lag in the purchase of necessary supplies to prepare for the quarantine. 

Video screenshot of a deaf Chinese woman signing over news b-roll.
Image of a video screenshot showing a sign language interpreter and teacher in China. She is deaf and also a social media influencer. She was the first person in China to make Covid-19 information videos in sign language to reach deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Her videos were shared by government official accounts and reached millions of people.

Due to lockdown policies and shortages of goods, some disabled women mentioned about running low on diapers and feminine hygienic items and feared for bedsores and other complications. Women with mobility impairments who lived alone found themselves in a dilemma when they tried to shop online in bulk. The items they purchased online could not be delivered to their homes due to strict quarantine measures: gatekeepers of apartment complexes and neighborhoods prohibited any entry of external visitors including delivery personnel. In one narrative by a disabled woman who resided in a rural village, she expressed worry about food shortages. 

A deaf woman bundled up in a heavy coat, knit hat, disposable gloves, and a face mask pulling boxes of supplies using a small 2-wheeled dolly. She is giving a thumbs up to the camera.
Image of a deaf woman transporting supplies for distribution to local deaf communities in Wuhan, Hubei Province, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak

Women also shared their negative experiences with accessing healthcare services during Covid-19. A woman in Taiwan found herself in an inaccessible hospital when she needed testing. She ended up staying in her wheelchair for the night with no accessible restroom to use.

A Taiwanese woman reclining in her electric wheelchair inside a makeshift hospital room inside of a tent. Her jacket is draped over her legs like a blanket.
Image of a wheelchair user woman in Taiwan; she documented her experience quarantining in an inaccessible hospital to raise awareness about disability-inclusive treatment in Covid-19

Another major impact disabled women mentioned was economic, with income and job losses. Women experienced financial pressure as neither they nor their families could work for months. Some women in personnel roles were faced with either salary cuts or threats of losing their jobs. There were also women who were fired without any compensatory packages during Covid-19. Faced with cancellation of programs and funding, some disabled women organizational leaders had to reduce their own salaries to sustain their organizations. 

Despite the difficulties, I have especially observed great agencies and multiple roles disabled women exhibited in their natural settings (see images). In the narratives, women were caretakers, business owners, frontline essential workers, community organizers, volunteers, among many other roles. Disabled women took care of their elderly family members and young children during the quarantine. Many women stayed home and continued to work remotely. For example, disabled women customer service workers volunteered to support the huge demand at the surge of online shopping during Covid-19. Many disabled women joined a volunteer-based disability support network to assist with individual case support, creation of accessible information, and coordination of donations for local communities. Some disabled women shared how they had been ‘stay-at-home experts’ prior to Covid-19 due to inaccessible work environments, and they were able to provide counseling support to other people who were now forced to shelter at home and struggle with mental health during quarantine.

A disabled woman of East Asian descent sitting next to a child coloring and writing with crayons.
Image of a disabled woman who owns a home-based tutoring business. She was forced to drop out of school due to lack of reasonable accommodations during her formal schooling years but had taught herself through non-formal continuing education. She was the caretaker for her two children at home while working as an online tutor to support her students during quarantine.

In my contact with disability activists and advocates in China, I realized that many of them were so swamped with working in the local communities that they often lacked the time, energy, or sometimes the tools to engage in documentation and research. In addition, with increasing visibility on gender and disability respectively, there has not been much research shared on the intersection of gender and disability. It is with this understanding that I took interest in conducting the research on Chinese disabled women throughout this pandemic. 

It is my hope that we see and acknowledge the personal agency disabled women have exerted, and the crucial roles they played in their homes and communities during Covid-19. The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated many existing challenges disabled women face in their lives. It is crucial that we work to remove the systemic barriers that multiply across intersections of marginalization, putting women with disabilities in doubly or triply disadvantaged situations. Additionally, it is imperative that disability-inclusive responses be put in place at times of emergencies and crises. Only through commitments and actions of inclusion and equity, can we ensure dignity and prosperity for all. 

Links to articles and images mentioned, in order of appearance:

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group. “Women with Disabilities in the Epidemic: Epidemic Calendar of Overseas Education Doctors”, by Hu Luanjiao. May 13, 2020.

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group.“Disabled women under the epidemic: I am from Wuhan, I am a deaf woman”, by Doudou Jun. February 25, 2020.

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group. “Disabled women under the epidemic: Sign language broadcasts epidemic prevention news is so hard-core”, by DUDU. March 22, 2020.

Central News Agency. “The handicapped will be tested and isolated and sleep in a wheelchair, forced to dig in a hospital bed and become a nightmare”, by Chen Weiting. May 17, 2020.

Le Yirong-Disabled Sisters Story Group. “Disabled women under the epidemic: a different winter vacation”, by Shi Xuejiao. May 16, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of LuanJiao Aggie Hu, a Chinese woman with a disability. She is smiling, and wearing a beautiful cheongsam with pink trim.

LuanJiao Aggie Hu is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, with a focus on disability studies, gender studies, and education for people with disabilities. She identifies as a person with disability, a feminist, and an activist scholar. 

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: This Precious Thing - Kindness, Rights, and New Zealand's COVID Response. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of a smiling Henrietta Bollinger, a white disabled person with short dark hair. Photo by Rona Aitken.

COVID Blog: This Precious Thing – Kindness, Rights, and New Zealand’s COVID Response

by Henrietta Bollinger

Mere days before New Zealand’s lockdown was announced, a journalist interviewed my flatmates and I about our concerns in the face of a pandemic.  She had done a lot of reporting on disabled community issues, so we trusted her. We glanced sidelong at each other, laughing into the phone on our kitchen table when she asked what we enjoyed doing.  I want readers to see you as people, you know?

Erin, Stace and I are all disabled community advocates.  Even our ginger cat Wilson is developing an international Twitter following of disabled and/or queer people we intersect with – invested in his mood, health, and hot takes. Our dinner table conversations can move almost imperceptibly from asking, Hey, how was your day?, to analyzing the relevant articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The day we were interviewed, the fear had just become palpable to me – particularly among my disabled friends. We worried about everything from access to food to how the health system would cope.  I worried about getting the support I need twice a day. We had started stocking up on PPE – a good move given that none was supplied to us until a week before lockdown ended. 

Our flat has been together for about a year now. We have a home that actually meets our needs – something we don’t take for granted. There is nothing like the Americans with Disabilities Act to regulate housing accessibility here. The housing crisis is acute – we rage while watching news items about disabled kids living in garages.  My flatmates tell me they’re never moving out.

Stace Robertson, Etta Bollinger, and Erin Gough, at their Wellington flat with Wilson the cat.

Living here involves a lot of laughter– in recognition of each other, of living daily with the absurdity of ableism and hetero/cis-normativity. We’re a support network for each other. Like many households, we wouldn’t escape the lockdown without putting some pressure on this precious thing, but for me, it was still the best place to be for weathering this unknown. 

The wider word felt heavier than the small one under my roof.  Solidarity can also feel like heartbreak. I cried over Facebook posts about the Welsh surgery that wrote to disabled patients asking them not to call Emergency Services, implying this would be more considerate of others. I felt sick reading about a wave of Covid cases in a New York home for disabled people. I stayed up late writing a letter to the British Minister for Disabilities but lost the nerve to send it. I turned my attention to my own situation. 

Our Government came to power positioning itself as a compassionate administration. I am grateful for this. I am relieved about the prioritization of people over economy that has characterized the response. Many people are emphasizing that during this time, choosing kindness is essential. Kindness in the context of the pandemic is most simply understood as helping people more vulnerable than yourself.  

All the same – the rhetoric of kindness is hardly instantly reassuring to disabled people. Kindness towards us is so often linked to charity and paternalism. It positions us as dependent upon the whims of the non-disabled world to both determine, and grant us our basic needs. I told our interviewer that New Zealand’s response couldn’t simply be about kindness, it had to be about rights. 

 The lawsuit, Borrowdale v Director-General of Health, questions the legality of our lockdown, claiming that although the order was necessary, it violates the rights of freedom of movement and assembly, which are guaranteed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights. The case has since made it to the High Court, but it feels to me largely like a disruptive, academic exercise. These are far from  the rights that my friends and I are worried about right now.

A friend had called me with a shrug of resignation in her voice. She said, “If our medical system goes the way Italy’s has, I just won’t be prioritized.” I didn’t try to comfort her. Perhaps she was being a realist. Kindness is not always enough to keep us alive.

Having to often depend on the kindness of others generally places disabled people outside the non-disabled world’s frame of reference for who and what is essential. Disabled people are essential workers, parents, or otherwise part of the unseen economy that will get us through.  The concept of ‘the bubble’ – the central analogy our Government uses to describe how people should limit or expand their social contact – was first proposed by a disabled academic, Dr Tristram Ingham.

Understanding the potential power of disabled people has not made me feel safe, though. Going into lockdown I had simultaneous feelings of vulnerability and responsibility. Navigating my responsibility to my support workers as an employer was not new. In the shifting legal landscape of the pandemic response, the limitations of the system left me alone at critical moments. I didn’t know if I would have a full support team over lockdown, or adequate protections for them if they did work. 

My flatmates helped me move through this uncertainty. From my team of three, two support workers continued coming into our home. They became my contact points for everything: making food, picking up extra shopping, visiting my room when a cold cut me off from the rest of the house, providing most of my physical touch, albeit through latex. 

How was your lockdown? is too quickly becoming a ubiquitous nicety, one that suggests that this crisis has passed. Outside Auckland – where case numbers are higher – we are experiencing reprieve, easily forgetting how fragile things are, while many  disabled people continue to fear the deadly repercussions of relaxing safety measures. I struggle keep my reply personal. The people around me understood my rights, and they were kind. I respond, Well, I was lucky

Links to articles and sites referenced, in order of appearance:

NZ Herald; ‘All I want to do right now is hide’: What it’s like living in deadly fear of coronavirus, by Kirsty Johnston. March 21, 2020.

The Guardian; Welsh surgery apologises over ‘do not resuscitate’ instruction, by Mattha Busby. March 31, 2020.

The New York Times; ‘It’s Hit Our Front Door’: Homes for the Disabled See a Surge of COVID-19, by Danny Hakim. April 17, 2020.

The Spinoff; Unlawful, but necessary and reasonable: making sense of the High Court ruling on the lockdown, by Andrew Geddis. August 20, 2020.

Stuff; Dr Tristram Ingham, the brains behind the COVID-19 ‘bubble’, by Josephine Franks. July 18, 2020.

About the author

Author photo of a smiling Henrietta Bollinger, a white disabled person with short dark hair. Photo by Rona Aitken.

Henrietta (Etta) Bollinger is a writer and disability rights advocate. Etta has had poems appear in Starling, Mimicry and Scum magazines and plays staged  in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Etta lives with two other advocates and their sympathetic cat. Etta is currently writing a first book about life as a disabled person.

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Banner with text: COVID Blog: US Disability Benefits Applicants in 'Abyssful' Purgatory. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of Danielle McCann, smiling and turning back with her back to the camera.

Getting COVID-tested while Blind: Self-Advocacy (& A lot of phone calls)

By Danielle McCann

When I found out that I’d been exposed to COVID-19, I was worried, but once I started trying to get tested, I was floored by the responses I got back. Either I was endlessly on hold, only to have my call disconnected, or I was continuously directed to inaccessible websites to check appointment availability. I finally found that a national chain had drive-up locations in my area, so I thought I’d call to let them know that I’m blind and would be walking through for my appointment. This is where it all changed.

The first person I spoke to simply told me to go elsewhere because they didn’t serve blind people. I immediately went to social media and tagged the chain in posts expressing my shock at being dismissed like that. 

While my posts garnered a call from the regional manager, it proved fruitless. Every time he said that walking through a drive through was a safety concern, I countered with “sir, with all due respect, it’s up to me to decide what my health and safety priorities and concerns are.” He suggested a rideshare; I asked if it was fair to potentially expose a driver, and what about the cost of that trip? I could have covered the ride but not everyone can afford that expense. He mentioned that it was against their safety policy for the company to allow me to walk through a line of vehicles. I asked about changing the policy. He said that there would be a walk-up location available within the next few months, but I refused to wait that long – in a couple months of waiting, I could expose so many people, or face health complications from the virus going undiagnosed and unaddressed. He finally called me back three days later and said that he could “probably” make an exception for me; I declined because that wouldn’t fix the root issue, the systemic allowances that enabled the company to not accommodate my disability, and to think it was okay to do that. During our third conversation, he said that he understood my frustration. I simply said “No, you don’t. Because at the end of the day, you can drive up and get tested with ease while I, and everyone else who doesn’t have access to a vehicle, cannot.” He promised a future call back that has yet to happen.

While I am comfortable advocating for myself in all types of situations, this was something new. I’d dealt with barriers in school, with my guide dog, at work, and in other instances. However, up till now, I’d been fortunate in only having to gently explain my needs in a health care setting to have a positive outcome. The brushoffs coupled with the constantly changing rules of COVID-related interactions were uncharted territory; my successful navigation of which could literally could mean life or death for me and countless others.  

Self advocacy tips

I used these strategies to get what I needed.

1.     Stay calm. 

As emotional as you might feel, approach the situation calmly and with patience. It is so important to advocate with a level head so you can provide helpful information and lay out your concerns clearly. I was angry and frustrated, but yelling wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere, so I stayed calm and explained my situation as many times as were necessary.

2. It is ALWAYS the right time to advocate. 

I’ll say it again: It is ALWAYS the right time to advocate. Throughout my search for a testing site, I was brushed off more than once. It seemed like at every turn, the people I talked to were dismissive of my urgency to get tested because I needed accommodations. I made sure to explain why the process that works for most doesn’t work for us all. I hit dead ends a majority of the time, but I didn’t let them turn me away without trying to make them understand why accessibility matters.

3. Make a Plan B in case your first plan falls through or is indefinitely delayed.

While I was going back-and-forth with the chain pharmacy, I continued my research into other facilities. Thankfully, I was able to make an appointment which was several days out with a hospital so I knew that if I didn’t get anywhere with Plan A, I would have a backup solution. While booking this appointment, I noted that I would need a walk-up accommodation because I’m blind and asked that they call me if I needed to follow a different protocol than what was listed online.

4. Then make a Plan C, Plan D, Plan E… 

In addition to the appointment at the hospital (which is not within walking distance) I got a couple of offers from friends/family who felt comfortable enough to drive me through the line. I told them I’d let them know if I needed them but kept on searching for another way. Also, in the back of my mind, was the rideshare option.

5.     Speak honestly about your needs. 

If you need electronic versions of registration forms, a sighted guide, interpreter, or other accommodations, let them know and keep reminding them. In addition to making them aware of my needs while registering, I reminded them when they called to confirm my appointment. As we all know, in hectic times, miscommunications can happen.

In the end, I got my test using the best combination of resources that worked for me. Thankfully, it was negative, and though it wasn’t a smooth experience, it was a good reminder for me to keep educating others and using my voice to speak up for equal access. Life is not one-size-fits-all, and until there is space for everyone, we, as a proud disabled community, need to keep pushing for it no matter how long it takes. 

About the author:

Author photo of Danielle McCann, a blind Latinx adult, smiling as she turns back towards the camera, a yellow sweater hanging off of her finger.

Danielle McCann is a proud blind Latinx living in the suburbs of Milwaukee with her husband and their three dogs. When she’s not working as a customer service manager, she is crocheting, teaching crochet, creating content for her social media platforms that is crochet-related, or buying yarn for more crocheting. Follow her on Instagram at @DMadeCrochet or on her YouTube channel, DMade Crochet

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COVID Blog: U.S. Disability Benefits Applicants in ‘Abyssful’ Purgatory

by Sabrina White

The Social Security Administration (SSA)’s severely flawed disability determination/reconsideration process is having an even deadlier impact on persons with disabilities than usual. Granted, it is fully understood that the target populations for Social Security benefits are people who are retiring from work, and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) experiencing either the beginning effects of no income due to the initial onset of disabilities, and/or who have experienced disability in the long term.  Among the several internal misapplications of statutes at the Social Security Administration’s Disability Determination Service (DDS)’s level, one error alone can be the ultimate determinant of whether persons with disabilities live or die, especially when facing imminent peril to the likes of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In spotlighting these issues within the agency, one should note that there are two types of Social Security benefits, with two separate sets of rules in the disability determination process:

  1. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for persons with disabilities who have little or no work history and no access to an income or resources; and 
  2. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for people who have a longer history of working who have become disabled.

Both of these determination processes have proven to be highly inefficient and painful for persons with disabilities, as well as unduly compound additional deficiencies brought on by a pandemic.  Even prior to the pandemic, applicants faced financial and medical dangers while waiting upwards of six months to never-ending years for an initial favorable/unfavorable determination, followed by up to four other appeals stages, depending on the state in which the claimant resides. According to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from 2008 to 2019, nearly 110,000 people died while waiting for an appeal. 

A crucial flaw in the agency’s determination process presumes that claimants are able to rely on their families and communities for financial and medical support during the painstakingly lengthy determination and appeals process. For most applicants, this is not the case, as persons with disabilities generally start out at a financial disadvantage during the initial application process. If an individual does have some income or financial means to sustain themselves through the application process, they are likely to get denied still. They may get denied for SSI because they exceed the asset limits, which essentially state that if a person has more than $2,000 in cash or resources, they are ineligible to receive SSI benefits. If an individual either chooses or is forced to work while they await their benefits determination, they may be denied on the basis of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). This refers to a cap on the monthly income that serves as the agency’s threshold of disability – if an individual makes more than the limit, they are not considered disabled by the Social Security Administration. The algorithm makes no compensation for claimants whom had a higher earning power prior to becoming disabled who had to stop working due to their disabilities during the required 12-month period. Because of the higher perceived earning power, these applicants are often denied, even though the claimant was not able to fully meet their needs. 

Despite these algorithms, the agency then contradicts itself with special exceptions – the opportunity to have uncapped income can become available under their work incentives programs. One additional social construct of claimants is those that fall in the ‘gray’ area of ability to provide for a single-parent family household’s circumstance. The agency fails to take into account the actual impact of any court-ordered required Accounts Payable which fall under “outgoing income” – for example, child-support (cash support and/or medical), where the claimant doesn’t get to ‘enjoy’ nor use this portion of their income to their advantage. In each of these cases, a clear pattern emerges in which the administration focuses on heavily weighing resources, moreso than on helping the claimant. Even knowing that these criteria are circular and unrealistic, the agency’s internal representatives apply these systemically-oppressive criteria to a fault, as a part of their everyday job duties. This system is designed to the disadvantage and often, detriment of a disabled person. With the lengthy determination/appeals processes, disabled people often feel stuck in state of purgatory. 

The majority of persons with disabilities are people of color, and due to racism, including redlining, hiring and pay discrimination, and denied access to wealth-building, the African-American population holds the highest poverty and subsequently, homelessness rates in every state across the United States. Due to these factors and others, African-Americans are being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – hence the death tolls previously mentioned from the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s report.  Rothstein’s “Segregated by Design” 17-minute video compilation shows in great detail how de jure segregation has maintained systemic and institutionalized oppression that could explain why persons with disabilities are deficient of assets and resources to sustain themselves and their families. Exploring eight key environmental injustices in unison provides unique clarity on how each of the individual environmental injustices are connected via domino-effect to the other(s) as follows:

  1. Landlessness                                 5) Hunger-in-America
  2. Poverty                                          6) Health Disparities
  3. Homelessness                               7) Educational Disparities
  4. Wealth/Income Inequalities          8) Mass Incarceration of African-American Men

One additional note for persons with disabilities during COVID-19 is that on state-level assistance and optional eviction moratoriums, it is technically per states’ ‘right-to-choose’ regarding enforcement of nationally declared moratoriums. Large numbers of persons with disabilities are more likely to face eviction, compounded episodic homelessness, compounded poverty, and/or raw poverty circumstances, all of which can be linked to the cycle-of-poverty identified in the landlessness phenomenon first proposed in Esman’s (1978) compiled report presented at Cornell University to the Rural Development Committee, where he framed the ‘landless’ and ‘near-landless’ terminology.  Landlessness was later revisited by Sinha’s (1985) compiled text stemming from Sen’s (1983) premise that landlessnesswas both a cause and symptom of chronic poverty, which espoused the situations and tribulations the landless are going through in connection to deficiencies in assets and resources. The Social Security Administration’s process requires disabled people to stay in the cycle-of-poverty, whether or not they receive assistance. As we collectively face the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, persons with disabilities will face increased landlessness and cycles of poverty, all while awaiting benefits that due to this flawed determinant system, may never come. 

It is clear that the cycle of poverty and by extension, the benefits determination process that holds persons with disabilities in the cycle of poverty, is not only painful, but it violates the constitutional right to life of persons with disabilities. As Rothstein posits in the “Segregated by Design” video, “And if it’s unconstitutional, then we have an obligation to remedy it!”

Documents referenced:

Esman, M.J. (1978). Landlessness and near-landless in developing countries, p. ii. Rural Development Committee. Cornell University.

Neuman, Lawrence W. (2011). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches 7th Edition. Allyn & Bacon.

Picchi, Aimee. (2020). Almost 110,000 Americans died while waiting for a Social Security disability hearing. CBS News.

Rothstein, Richard. (2018). The Color of Law A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright. 

Rothstein, Richard. (2018). Segregated by Design.  Retrieved from

Sen, Amartya. (1983). Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press, USA. 

Sinha, Radha. (1985). Landlessness: A Growing Problem. FAO Economic & Social Development Series. No 28/F2720.

White, Sabrina. (2018). Dire Systemic Inequitable Domino-Effects of Landlessness: Mississippi the Worst-Case Scenario.  Dissertation.

About the author

Author photo of Sabrinah White, a Black woman with curly black and gray hair, smiling.

Sabrinah White, PhD is an Urban & Regional Planner/Environmental Social Scientist and speaker committed to reform efforts on environmental injustices and activism for our society’s much needed expeditious change under the looming disadvantageous impacts of global warming/climate change for marginalized, disenfranchised, and disadvantaged groups.  She is also a Person with Disabilities (PWD) who has challenged and championed Social Security Administration’s faulty disability policies, misapplication of statutes, and in-house minutiae at all levels of the appeals processes including federal Judicial Review for over 6+ years, and won as a Pro Se claimant.  Amongst her efforts in public service, she has also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer-in-Service-to-America).

Social Media Profiles & Blogs:



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Banner with text: COVID Blog: Mental Health in the Time of Corona. Icon of speech bubble with WID globe. Background photo of a hand typing on a laptop computer and author photo with a magenta tint. Author photo of Kale Sastre, a white person with short brown hair, glasses, and a silver lip ring.

COVID Blog: Mental Health in the Time of Corona

By Kale Sastre

When I first heard about Coronavirus, it didn’t seem much different than other health scares I’ve lived through. I thought this would be a good chance to get some cheap plane tickets, though I was disappointed that St. Patrick’s Day events were cancelled. But once schools and sports shut down, I knew it was serious. Since then, people I know personally have gotten sick and even died. The in-person supports I depended on have been pulled out from under me. While this has been hard on everyone, it is particularly difficult on people with mental health conditions, including myself and my neighbors.

I live in an apartment complex for low income people with at least one diagnosed mental health disorder. The organization that runs this complex is a mental health community center . Organizations like this community center and housing programs that cater to low income, disabled individuals are absolutely crucial to us surviving – not only during a pandemic, but all the time.

For most people, the uncertainty we’re dealing with now is scary. For people with anxiety, it is terrifying, impacting what we can handle on a daily basis. Most people would agree that these times are depressing, but for those of us with depression it can feel overwhelming and unbearable. Our suicidal thoughts are skyrocketing while the world seems hopeless and our lives have lost many of their bright spots. While everyone is struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy, many people with mental health disorders are struggling to survive.

People with cognitive and intellectual disorders may not understand what is happening and why, especially without consistent, direct instructions and communication. People with social disorders are more isolated than ever, which can make it difficult to continue hard-won progress in maintaining healthy social relationships. People who struggle with instability in their mental health, including people with bipolar or borderline, report having a hard time gripping onto something to keep their lives safe and regular. Consistency is key for managing many of these disabilities, and we are in a time with very little consistency.

For many of my neighbors, the hardest thing about Coronavirus has been the closing of the community center. Since all of us in my complex live alone and many do not have jobs, the center has been a major source of socialization and productivity for residents, as well as for other community members. Going to the community center was a big part of many people’s routines. Routine can be calming and motivating, and helps keep people on a stable and healthy path. When our routines are disrupted, it is harder to have a positive attitude and to do the things necessary for our wellbeing. For some people with mental health disabilities, lack of routine can lead to a total breakdown. Coronavirus has left us without much of a routine.

The community center offers a virtual experience to members now that the building is closed, and the staff have been reaching out to members. Supporting organizations like the center makes a tremendous difference for people struggling with their mental health, especially right now.

Without supportive housing options such as is offered through this program, many people with mental health disabilities experience severe consequences, including homelessness. According to the Center for American Progress:

“People with mental health disabilities are vastly overrepresented in the population of people who experience homelessness. Of the more than 550,000 people in America who experienced homelessness on a given night in 2017, 1 in 5 had a mental illness. The proportion of people experiencing chronic homelessness with mental health disabilities was even higher—nearly 1 in 3.”

The chronic stressors around insecure housing have a strong impact on mental and physical health. Permanent supportive housing, a combination of safe, stable housing and supportive services for people with mental health and other disabilities, is widely recognized as an evidence-supported model for providing transformative support that leads to improved health and lasting housing stability. In a pandemic where people with disabilities are at higher risk of infection, this is an especially important accommodation.

For me, part of how I keep my mental health in a good place is by traveling and setting goals. Right now, most travel is indefinitely suspended, and many of the goals I have set for myself have had to be put on hold. I made a new list of goals specifically for the duration of the pandemic, but much of what I really want to do is postponed if not completely cancelled. Suicide risk goes up when distractions are gone and goals seem unachievable. Depressive states can seem never ending.

It is important to remember people with mental health struggles during these times, without using mental health struggles as an excuse to let virus transmission run rampant. More than ever, we need people to reach out to us. My friends who have played games with me online and who have offered to video chat with me help me to feel less purposeless and alone. I’ve been able to help my neighbors by walking them through how to connect online and by helping organize mini events on the property.

Check on us. Don’t just ask if we’re okay; ask how you can help. Help us individually but also support mental health organizations and mental healthcare access. Keep up with your legislators and show your support for disability rights, as well as initiatives that provide funding for long-term supports and services for people with disabilities, including permanent supportive housing. Funding for mental health organizations is especially crucial right now, as is affordable access to virtual mental health appointments. These resources can help people with mental health disabilities build and keep their stability and comfort, and even save their lives.

Links to articles and sites referenced, in order of appearance:

Center for American Progress; Lack of Housing and Mental Health Disabilities Exacerbate One Another, by Heidi Schultheis. November 20, 2018.

American Public Health Association (APHA); Housing and Homelessness as a Public Health Issue. November 7, 2018.

About the author

Author photo of Kale Sastre, a white person with short brown hair, glasses, and a lip ring, sitting in front of water and trees.

Kale Sastre is a disabled writer/activist/adventurer living (for the moment) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She wants to bring awareness to the issues people with physical and mental health disabilities and chronic illnesses face through her own experiences as well as those of others.

Kale’s websites: and
Twitter: @KaleSastre
YouTube: DZ Disaster

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