Accessibility is an interesting topic for Americans as we pride ourselves on being the land of opportunity. Every citizen has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, in practice the outcomes of this pursuit are wildly unequal. But we all generally agree that every American should be given the same chance to pursue it. We want the American dream to be accessible. Equal access matters.
I feel this particularly strongly because I’m disabled. I have an autoimmune immune condition called ankylosing spondylitis. My immune system attacks my body and it manifests in occasionally inconvenient symptoms like swelling in my spine that makes walking painful.
Thankfully I was born an American and I live in the twenty first century. We’ve got modern medicine. So my life can basically be normal thanks to immunosuppressant drugs. If you didn’t know my medical history (ok that’s unlikely as I write about it, like, constantly) you couldn’t tell I’m disabled. I’ve had absolutely equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. I’m deeply patriotic as a result. No one treatments me like a second class citizen.
But I get the impression that some people might try. Invisible disabilities have some upsides, you get treated normally, but the downside is you can see the kind of unconscious discrimination and bias people have because they’ve got no useful signifier like a wheelchair which reminds them to keep their mouth shut around you. Which means I hear a lot more of what people really feel. For which I’m grateful. I’d rather know if you think I’m less equal than you.
Watching able body healthy folks discuss vaccines has been a real trip for this reason. The sick and the elderly are ostensibly the reason we engaged in efforts like stay at home orders and now vaccinations and masking. We’ve made reasonable, and occasionally unreasonable, accommodations for the sake of our most vulnerable. The vast majority of Americans did what they could.
Now the accommodations are becoming more more permanent and less inclusive. And I wonder if they are reasonable accommodations for everyone. New York City is instituting vaccine requirements for indoor dining, cultural venues, and indoor public places.
People are going to get a really clear message: if you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated. It’s time,” NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference.
I want to participate in society fully. But getting vaccinated hasn’t been easy for me. I am one of the small number of immunosuppressed Americans for whom the vaccine either isn’t an option at all, comes with significant risks, or doesn’t work at all. It’s a misery to not be able to take advantage of one of science’s most significant achievements. I want to be successfully vaccinated very much. It may be possible but it’s costs are very high for me.
Now I grant I have no intention of going to a concert in Manhattan but it hurts to see people casually suggesting that all people who remain unvaccinated did so as a personal choice. It’s not really a great choice pursue a destabilizing course of treatment that may take away my ability to walk and cause significant pain. But sure. Call it a choice. I wouldn’t wish it on you.
People like DeBlasio do not seem to recognize that the message being sent is I can particulate fully in society or I can be one of those dangerous anti-society anti-vaxxers. It’s “one of us or one of them” and the “them” are bad guys. I’m not anti-vaccine. I think it’s generally safe for the vast majority of people and I hope that if you are healthy that you make the choice to get one. But not all Americans are so lucky.
So I beg you to reconsider your choice of words when discussing how much you disdain the unvaccinated. How it’s your choice to be an outcast of society. And don’t phrase policies like DeBlasio did. I deserve to be a part of society too. You made reasonable accommodations for people like me. Saying that I’m now a societal outcast is exclusionary. It’s pretty fucking in-American. Find a damn reasonable accommodation maybe.
And sure I’m not going to be attending anything at Madison Square Garden. But don’t legislate that into a final demarcation. Don’t caste me out forever. It’s not like I don’t know it isn’t safe for me. But maybe one day I’ll feel like it’s worth the risk to dine inside with friends. Maybe that’s an unhealthy impulse to take such a ridiculous risk, but so is drinking and eating fried foods and I’m allowed to make those choices without legislative interference. If I wear a mask and show a negative test maybe Bill De Blasio can see it in his heart to let me chose my own risks. But don’t for the love of America say that the unvaccinated can’t participate in society. I promise you will not like where that leads. A second class citizenship has never ended well.