The Unsettling of Old Norms by a New World of Covid-19 Public Health Surveillance

Just Tech Covid-19 Rapid-Response Grant – Fall 2020

Abstract

Covid-19 health surveillance has created a profound and rapid shift in who is disabled in society. This international study will interrogate how Covid-19 health surveillance has disrupted the line between the able and disabled to understand the impact of regulatory interventions, and responses to exclusion and disablement. The disability civil rights struggle and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 built upon a long history of segregation and oppression, with the line between able and disable always shifting slowly. Covid-19 health surveillance has changed this and caused a rapid paradigm shift in how existing disabilities are restricted in public spaces. The result is that many people who have not previously identified as having a disability now experience disablementy. What was a minor health condition is now a major barrier to entering public spaces, education, and work. Covid-19 health surveillance has unsettled ability norms, for example:

  • A person with a pre-existing persistent dry cough may confront greater barriers in entering many public spaces now than a person who uses crutches.
  • A person who has high blood pressure and thus a consistent high temperature may confront greater barriers to using public transport than a person who is profoundly deaf.
  • A person with a respiratory condition, who previously had minor inconveniences, may find their inability to attend work more disabling than a person in a wheelchair.

This project will illuminate the experiences of historically marginalized people, and illustrate how groups not historically marginalized are now likely to experience disablement.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Paul Harpur

Associate Professor, University of Queensland Law School

  • Bio ▾

    Dr. Paul Harpur is an associate professor with the University of Queensland Law School, is chair of the UQ Disability Inclusion Group, is a former Fulbright scholar and former Paralympian. He is an International Distinguished Fellow with the Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University, academic fellow with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability, a non-executive director with Help Enterprises Ltd, and guide dog user. Dr. Harpur was recognised to receive a 2019 Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, as part of the Australian Award for University Teaching program. Dr. Harpur’s citation is “for outstanding leadership in translating disability strategy into a vision of ability equality and core university business.” He believes in ability equality strongly and works for a world where we no longer talk about us and them, and instead just about us.

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