Disability, Deadly Discourse, and Collectivity amid Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Thomas Abrams, David Abbott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
390 Downloads (Pure)


As the COVID-19 pandemic extends across the globe, disabled people are subject to new medical and discursive realities. We focus on the consequences of the latter. Looking to news reports in our respective countries, Canada and the UK, we argue that the current language of ‘pre-existing conditions’ represents disability as non-life, used to explain away the material realities facing disabled persons. The language of pre-existing conditions ignores the distribution of care work in our societies, poverty, and other forms of exclusion facing disabled people and the population more generally. We use work on ventilator users to point to these existing inequalities, obscured as they may be. Though the words may have changed, this story is not new. We outline existing narratives within disability studies that challenge disability as deadly biological and economic deficiency and situate the ‘pre-existing’ terminology therein. Here we look to work in disability studies and bioethics challenging the disability – death equation. We end by reviewing counter-narratives by and for disabled people, highlighting the ongoing and life-affirming resistance found throughout the disability rights movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168–174
Number of pages7
JournalScandinavian Journal of Disability Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2020

Structured keywords

  • SPS Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies
  • Covid19


  • COVID‐19
  • care work
  • Ventilators
  • death and dying
  • disability


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