Michael Hickson did not have to die on June 11, 2020 at 46 years of age.
Mr. Hickson did not die because he contracted the coronavirus in a Texas nursing facility; he died because a racist and ableist medical system determined that as a Black Disabled man, Michael had no quality of life and therefore did not deserve to be treated or receive resuscitation, nourishment or even hydration. People are dying every day because nondisabled people are making assumptions about the quality of lives they know nothing about. In Michael Hickson’s case, it was a court-appointed guardian and his doctors, but all of the people who loved and knew him and understood his quality of life were left out of the decision, including his wife.
From the Disability Community’s perspective, the coronavirus pandemic has offered a string of events revealing the ableism and racism operating at every level of American life. We have seen predominantly black and brown disabled Americans abandoned to die in the virus incubators that are congregate settings. Not only in nursing facilities, but in prisons, group homes, and inpatient psychiatric facilities. We have seen the reaction to this pandemic heighten existing racial and economic disparities in health care, to the point where states are actively rationing care and determining that disabled people are not worthy of treatment. Michael Hickson is sadly one of the first public faces of this practice.
Our organization continues to develop, implement, and assess advocacy and programmatic objectives through an anti-racist/anti-ableist lens. As we look at our work from this perspective, it is as clear as ever that from disparities in health care, to the availability and authorization of services, racial and disability discrimination are linked in a multitude of ways. In seeing the many ways racism and ableism use each other to harm black and brown disabled people, we are deeply aware of the enormity of the task we face.
It is also vital that we signal our commitment to the movement for Black Lives to the community we live in. We are located in downtown Rochester, New York, an area where the majority of people are those most targeted by the violence of white supremacy. To make our position clear to those around us, we have replaced the banners at the front of our building. Our new banners remind all who pass or enter our building that Black Lives Matter.
The images on the banners, featuring our employees and consumers, remind us an understanding that Black Lives Matter has always been a part of our work. Our aim in keeping this part of our work explicit, is that it will aid us in preventing anyone else from dying in a hospital or nursing home, because of systemic racism and ableism.