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Some of us can't isolate

For some people with disabilities, it might not

For some people with disabilities, it might not be possible to self-isolate, even during a pandemic. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/ands456

I have a confession to make, something that in the age of COVID-19 seems almost seditious: daily, up-close human contact is an indispensable part of my life.

I use a motorized wheelchair and I need assistance doing the routine things everyone does every day, like getting dressed and getting out of bed and doing laundry and all that. I've hired a crew of people to come in and help me do that stuff. Their wages are paid by a state Medicaid-funded program.

If my crew members do not show up, I don't get out of bed. There's no way around it. I wish my powers of concentration were so strong that I could levitate myself out of bed, but they're not. I wish there really was technology like they have on Star Trek and I could beam myself into my wheelchair, but there isn't.

Generally, I think this reliance is a good thing. It's a good reminder that, no matter what, everything comes down to us all taking care of each other. That's what's gotten us humans this far. Let's not get distracted by libertarian fantasies of rugged individualism. In the end, they'll only let us down.

The tougher the times, the more important human contact is to me. We are in a situation where human contact is the one thing we're all supposed to avoid. We're all supposed to isolate, but some of us can't. And that's what's so scary. It will take a whole lot of human contact to get me through this.

I fear the lockdown escalating to something like martial law. It's already happening in California, where the governor has ordered everybody to only go out for essential reasons. I don't blame him for doing that, but I worry about the varying interpretations of the word "essential."

At this surreal time, a pizza delivery person is essential. And the people who help me and the hundreds of thousands of disabled folks in the United States who rely on similar assistance are essential — at least to us. Without their daily human contact, we're screwed.

My crew members are among those who can't just hide at home and wait for the "All clear!" because if they do, some people will suffer even more. But I fear that while they're on the way to me, they'll be detained at Checkpoint Charlie and ordered to state their business. And when they say they're going to help some old guy get out of bed, that won't be considered essential.

I know in all this isolation my mind often wanders to a dark place. I hope this fear will ultimately prove to be a silly delusion brought on by all of that.

I also hope those crafting the response to the coronavirus are wise enough to know that the ability to successfully separate ourselves from other humans isn't the key to survival for everyone. For many of us, it's quite the opposite.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

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