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COVID, the CDC, and the #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy Movement

by Jaime Rodriguez RDPFS Intern

In January, Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), made a speech regarding the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, stating that a disproportionate number, more than 75% of COVID deaths, were “people who were unwell to begin with.” She suggested that this was “encouraging news” concerning deaths. The speech later aired on ABC’s Good Morning America. As expected, many people with chronic illnesses and/or disabilities expressed outrage about the assumption that people with preexisting illnesses and/or disabilities were disposable or expendable for the sake of returning to “normal” when the pandemic is finally deemed an endemic. ABC and the CDC attempted to run damage control, indicating that the interview had been edited. The outraged, however, took to Twitter using the hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy, which brought a surge of people, children and adults, sharing personal feelings about the issue. Many expressed frustration that people were ready to cast off their masks and resume the lives they lived before COVID-19, despite knowing that some would still die, and that they believed those lives were acceptable losses as long as they could resume their lives and bolster the economy. More than 150 disability advocacy groups, along with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, sent a letter to CDC Director Walensky, regarding the statement, requesting ongoing meetings with “disability stakeholders and CDC Leadership.” They also urged that the CDC base guidance regarding isolation in “public health evidence and data and in an understanding of their impacts on those most at risk” and that action be taken to ensure that “all COVID-19 guidance and other response efforts are inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities.” To date, a meeting with Director Walensky has been set up but no other significant action has been taken. Read the full document, “Letter From the Disability Community to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky” here. And read an article in The Mighty, “CDC Director’s Comments About COVID Deaths Spur #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy Movement” here.