By Mara Pieri

Abstract: At the beginning of the pandemic, when millions of people were forced to stay at home, work from there, and face the threat of illness, it seemed like everyone was experiencing conditions similar to the ones that people with disabilities and chronic illness live everyday. As the situation advanced, however, it became clear that the dominant narratives were going into another direction. In this presentation, I propose a discussion of three of these mainstream narratives through the lens of feminist disability studies and crip theory that reflect on bodily vulnerability and able-bodiedness as a system of power. First, I will observe how public discourses developed the idea of fragility in the dichotomy health/illness. In this supposed mainstream state of vulnerability, some lives were more disposable than others: age and pre-existing health conditions became crucial elements of inequality. Second, I will discuss the discourses on accessibility and the sudden advent of working-from-home (WFH). The WFH rethoric contributed to exacerbate the pre-existing inequalities based on gender, age, and, once again, able-bodiedness in access to work, working hours, and equal pay.

A closer reading on the debate on accessibility can help to understand the broader context of these changes. Third and finally, forced isolation showed the importance of interdependence in networks of care, a topic at the centre of critical disability studies. The reflections I am offering aim at evidencing how the narratives of universalism, promoted with slogans such as “We’re all in this together”, hid profound inequalities and difficulties. Together with gender, sexuality, race, and age, illness and disability play a crucial role in determining the possibilities of survival through the crisis, not only because of the suddenly exposed bodily vulnerability, but also because of the material conditions of life it entails. Because of this, the knowledge produced from a place of vulnerability provides elements to better understand the challenges of this pandemic through an intersectional perspective.

Keywords: chronic illness, disability, disability justice, crip studies, vulnerability

Mara Pieri is PhD student in the programme “Human Rights in Contemporary Societies” at the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra (Portugal), Mara holds a BA and an MA in Sociology at University of Trento, Italy. In her work, she brings together disabilities studies and queer and crip studies through an intersectional approach and a specific focus on chronic illness. Her research interests include supercrips; medicalization; chronic illness and invisible disabilities; accessibility; sexualities in Southern Europe; LGBT lives through intersections. Since 2017 she is a member of the Board of the Sexuality Research Network of the ESA European Sociological Association and since 2018 she coordinates the Research Stream on Sexuality and Gender of the APS – Portuguese Sociological Association. –