Urgent Action Alert: Looking at Disability Advocacy During COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond


March 18, 2020 | by Amber Smock

Dear Access Living friends and allies,

Today, we offer a quick urgent action alert, and then some thoughts about what disabilities advocates should be aware of during this time of great COVID-19 stress for people with disabilities, families, and support workers. For those who need it, here is a link to the page Access Living is maintaining on COVID-19 resources.

Quick Action Alert: The US Senate is working RIGHT NOW on a vast COVID-19 stimulus package for the country. However, the package needs to include people with disabilities, and we ask that you use this link to send a quick email to your US Senators to ask them to fight for us. More context about this alert is given below.

Getting Grounded: It’s more than understandable right now that disability advocates and organizations are still in the process of figuring out a) survival and b) how to shift our work, whether we do that through policy or organizing or media, online or in person, or in other ways. We want to offer four core thoughts about disability advocacy going forward during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, as follows…

Microlocal Mutual Aid Work: Many advocates are already on top of working with local communities to develop networks of mutual aid. In an era where current federal assistance clearly has gaps, the personal work of mutual aid is critical. For example, at this link is a Chicago area mutual aid form; here is an example template for creating one in your area. For some folks, it may be helpful to think through what your local network of support looks like. Here is a link to a tool called pod mapping, as another example. These efforts are a critical investment of effort not only because of COVID-19, but because communities need to develop what emergency response looks like in an era of climate change and new disaster problems.

Keep an Eye on the Stimulus Package: Another important area of work happening right now is the development of the Congressional stimulus package for our economy. For those who recall the enormous stimulus package passed in response to the recession of 2008, a stimulus releases huge amounts of funds that, while temporary, also need close monitoring for disability accountability. The stimulus package being worked on could release funds related to not only healthcare and jobs, but housing, transportation and more. Monitoring this will require hard work and an awareness that stimulus funding is time-limited.

Support Disability Proposals: As mentioned earlier, the stimulus package in the Senate doesn’t include certain disability items, so Senator Bob Casey has developed the Coronavirus Relief for Seniors and People with Disabilities Act (one pager at this link, bill text at this link). Advocates are pushing to get the provisions of that bill in the bigger stimulus package. This is what is in the action alert above. Advocates are also pushing on Twitter to hold US Senator Charles Schumer accountable for disability in the stimulus package through the hashtag #SeeUsSchumer. If you’re on Twitter, please check that out. Senator Schumer is the Democratic leader in the Senate.

Monitor State Efforts: Bear in mind that governors in every state are wrestling with the COVID-19 crisis, and at least some are engaged in the process of emergency rule making related to the crisis. State level advocates should keep a close eye on these processes to make sure that disability concerns are included. Bear in mind that public comment may be limited or not done at all; governors also have the option of directing the crisis through Executive Orders. So please, monitor what is happening in your state and speak out as needed.

Hang In There: We need to support each other as much as we can, not only with on-the-ground support for individual persons, but to help each other think through what will be needed in the longer term. We have to support and build capacity for that advocacy. The COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally a signal that we will not be engaging in advocacy as usual. We have to harness the power of disability creativity to step up.