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Disability and resilience

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Work in progress - trying to collect some thoughts for a possible MeTa Open Thread

In <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/pandemic-summer-coronavirus-reopening-back-normal/609940/">Our Pandemic Summer</a>, Ed Yong writes:

Over the coming months, we need “to normalize COVID in the public psyche, and reinforce that this will be a part of our day-to-day lives,” said Kissler, the Harvard disease modeler. “Many people I've spoken with are aghast at the thought. We thirst for a swift and decisive 'victory.' But I'm reminded of images from World War II as people in London walked to work, briefcases in hand, against a backdrop of bombed-out buildings. I think we are in store for a similar period in history, as we learn to make greater peace with the world's chaos and our own mortality.”

This kind of psychological resilience already exists within large groups of people who have been marginalized during periods of normalcy, and who are now the most at-risk from the pandemic. Elderly people, for example, have been most frequently cast as a vulnerable group in need of protection. But “older people have been through a lot—the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement, the Cold War,” said Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “They are culture keepers, full of stories of how you get through major tragedies and upheavals.”

The disability community has also noted that, at a time when their health is in jeopardy and their <a href="https://www.vox.com/first-person/2020/4/4/21204261/coronavirus-covid-19-disabled-people-disabilities-triage">value is in question</a>, abled people are struggling with a new normal that is their old normal—spatial confinement, unpredictable futures, social distance. “We know how to do community from afar, and how to organize from bed,” said Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech, who studies the intersection between technology and disability. “Instead of feeling this great vacuum, our social life hasn’t radically changed.” Disability scholars have written about “<a href="https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/5824/4684">crip time</a>”—a flexible attitude toward timekeeping that comes from uncertainty. “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind,” Shew said. “Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, depending on my next cancer scan or what’s happening in my body. I already live in this world when I’m measuring in shorter increments, when my future has always been planned differently.”

As the rest of the U.S. comes to terms with the same restless impermanence, it must abandon the question When do we go back to normal? That outlook ignores the immense disparities in what different Americans experience as normal. It wastes the rare opportunity to reimagine what a fairer and less vulnerable society might look like. It glosses over the ongoing nature of the coronavirus threat. There is no going back. The only way out is through—past a turbulent spring, across an unusual summer, and into an unsettled year beyond.