How To Show Care For The Disabled People Around You

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July of this year marked Disability Pride Month, a global movement that celebrates disability as a natural part of human diversity, and encourages disabled people to accept, love, and take pride in their disabled selves. Many Australian disabled people choose to use this month as a chance to open up about their experience existing as a disabled person in this world. However, the celebration of Disability Pride Month in Australia pales in comparison to other months commemorating notable civil rights movements, despite disabled people comprising 18% of Australia's population. This is particularly obvious on the tail of LGBTQI+ Pride Month, which sees thousands paint the streets in a vivid display of sequins and rainbows. Disability Pride Month is comparatively dim, which is sadly consistent with how disabled people have historically been viewed; which is to say, not at all. There is a long history of disabled people being imprisoned, institutionalised or otherwise segregated from society, and unfortunately it is still common to view disability as something to be kept hidden. 
These attitudes toward disability are so prevalent still that earlier this year, former prime minister Scott Morrison opined that he and his wife were blessed not to have to raise disabled children, a comment that received widespread criticism from disabled people across Australia. Many notable disability activists, including senator Jordon Steele-John and writer Carly Findlay, publicly condemned Morrison for these comments and shared ways in which they considered their disabilities to be blessings.
Disability Pride Month may be behind us, but there's always an opportunity for disabled people to openly and honestly speak about our experiences navigating this world; an opportunity for disabled people to be seen and heard, and an opportunity for non-disabled people to listen and learn.
Over the last few years, it has become increasingly hard for disabled people to be out in public. We have been continuously and vocally disappointed in how the government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the reluctance within which our government adopted many science-backed public health measures, such as masks and lockdowns, the poorly executed vaccine roll-out, and the overall lack of preparedness. Scared and distressed, many disabled people and non-disabled allies came together to support one another online, including sharing important information about what we need in order to survive. Eventually, thousands of infographics circled Instagram detailing how to practice harm reduction and risk minimisation when interacting with your disabled loved ones. Although in many ways we as a society have “returned to normal,” cases are continuing to rise and it is more important than ever that non-disabled allies listen to us about our needs. 

Most disabled people are still isolated. Many of us are still scared. We want to be out and about like [non-disabled] people.

Disability advocate Keely B expressed wanting to see more non-disabled people doing their part to keep at-risk disabled people safe. 
“I keep seeing from my disabled peers that they feel alone, scared, confused, and most of all, left behind,” she says. Keely, like many other disability activists, has continuously advocated for the use of masks, vaccines, and maintaining social distancing where possible, including avoiding large crowds. Despite mask mandates being scrapped in most states earlier this year, we are still begging people to use masks wherever possible and to continue practicing social distancing.
“Most disabled people are still isolated," Keely says. "Many of us are still scared. We want to be out and about like [non-disabled] people. If it’s not our bodies holding us back, like they more often than not do, it’s being scared of getting sick and what that could mean for us.” 

Prioritising the inclusion of online alternatives is another way non-disabled people can support us, with the pandemic revealing that these alternatives are possible if prioritised while planning an event. 

Instead of embracing our supposed “new normal” and enjoying the re-opening of Australia’s hospitality and tourism industries along with everyone else, many disabled people will once again be relegated to a life indoors, mirroring the generations of disabled people who spent their lives separated from the rest of the world. A decline in alternative, accessible means of attending and participating in events has sadly meant that even from indoors our options for socialising have been reduced.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw an upturn in virtual events – even virtual clubbing! – which provided a much-needed means of connecting with community for those isolating inside. Online options for events are something disabled people have needed since long before the pandemic, but as quickly as they arrived, they were gone. Prioritising the inclusion of online alternatives is another way non-disabled people can support us, with the pandemic revealing that these alternatives are possible if prioritised while planning an event. 
Finally, the past two years have only served to reinforce disabled peoples’ financially precarious positions. Disabled people have always been at a greater likelihood of living below the poverty line, and are at disproportionate risk of unemployment and homelessness, but where the past two years have left many people in worse financial situations, disabled people are no exception.
Commonly spoken about within disability communities is the importance of mutual aid, a community-based response to ensuring everybody’s material needs are being met. Although mutual aid was already being widely utilised among marginalised communities, the financial burden that COVID-19 placed on disabled people only increased the reliance on mutual aid within these communities. The Disability Justice Network in Australia, for example, has an ongoing GoFundMe that people can donate to, with all donations being redistributed to disabled people in need of financial support. Since April of 2021, over $55,000 has been redistributed. Moreover, the Disability Justice Network regularly responds to topical needs of the disability community, such as issuing a specific call-out for community members in need of Rapid Antigen Tests as their cost suddenly rose. Without the support of non-disabled members of our communities, these kinds of mutual aid projects likely would not be able to sustain themselves. 
Over the past two years, it has become clearer than ever how much we as a society depend on each other, and how important it is that we are always acting in solidarity with one another. As disabled people, we ask that those without a disability continue to reflect on how they might already be supporting the disabled people in their lives, whether there is more they could be doing, and what that might look like. Simply reaching out and asking the disabled people around you what they need is an easy way of showing care and solidarity. Alternatively, many resources have been developed outlining simple ways of supporting disabled people and the disabled community.
“Listen to us! We are more often than not giving [non-disabled] people the answer,” says Keely B. 
Coming together as a community to support one another is our best and arguably our only option for survival and collective liberation. Rather than wait for International Day of People with Disability in December, or next year’s Disability Pride Month, let’s continuously reflect on and re-establish the ways in which we show each other care, love and support. Let’s come together to create conditions in which disabled people can openly, honestly and publicly celebrate and take pride in their disabilities every single day.
Julia Rose Bak is a queer, Māori-Polish writer and organiser who grew up in Boorloo and now resides in Narrm. Their writing addresses themes such as access, care work, collective healing and collective liberation, as well as their experience growing up with chronic illness. 
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