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COVID-19 as Disability Genocide: How society fails disabled people during disasters

Original Version by Julia Watts Belser

Plain Language Translation by Reid Caplan

A conversation between Marcie Roth and Julia Watts Belser

July 1, 2022

Table of Contents:

Marcie Roth has done work on disability and disasters for many years. She talked with Julia Watts Belser about some of her work. This is a plain language version of their conversation.

When COVID-19 happened, it hurt people with disabilities a lot. Marcie talks about why people with disabilities get more hurt during disasters. She talks about how society should help disabled people during disasters.

Words to Know

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – A law passed in the U.S. in 1990. It says that it is against the law for anyone to discriminate against disabled people.

Disability justice – A movement that fights against discrimination. It got made by and for queer and trans disabled people of color. You can learn more about disability justice by going to

Disaster – A big emergency. In this paper, we use the word “disaster” to talk about emergencies that have to do with climate change.

Discrimination – When someone gets treated unfairly by society because of who they are, in ways that take away their rights.

Genocide –  When people in power try to kill a lot of people in a certain group. The goal of genocide is to kill every person in that group on purpose. Genocide happens because people in power discriminate against these groups.

Home and community-based services (HCBS) – Services that help people with disabilities live in our communities instead of institutions. For example, having an in-home support worker is a kind of HCBS.

Institutions – Places where a lot of disabled people live. People living in institutions usually did not choose to live there. People living in institutions usually don’t get to make their own choices about their everyday lives.

Pandemic – When a disease starts spreading really quickly, and a lot of people get sick.

Rehabilitation Act – A law that passed in the U.S. in 1973. It says that the government can’t discriminate against disabled people.

Stafford Act – A law that passed in the U.S. in 1988. It said what kind of help the government needs to give people during disasters. After hurricane Katrina, the law got changed to say the government has to help people with disabilities during disasters.

Edited by Lucy Child, Amanda Chu, and Julia Watts Belser

You can use, share, and send this paper wherever you’d like, as long as you don’t sell it. It’s fine to only use a section, but please don’t change what anything says. Please put a link back to our website if you use our paper anywhere. 

“COVID-19 as Disability Genocide: How planning for emergencies fails disabled people during disasters – a conversation between Marcie Roth and Julia Watts Belser.”  Plain Language Translation by Reid Caplan.  Disability and Climate Change: A Public Archive Project. July 1, 2022.