On Going Maskless and Disability

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

When I was a new guide dog traveler some thirty years ago a strange man grabbed me as I was crossing Fifth Avenue in New York. He yanked me forcibly until we reached the far sidewalk and then without a word he ran away. My dog looked up at me as if to say: “Man that was weird!” Now that we’re in the heart of a pandemic I’m wondering how it will be when I finally return to the streets. Can the blind count on people to keep their distance? Guide dogs are trained to navigate around people but they’re not trained to imagine six feet of social distance. At best they use our combined width as navigable space.

A friend who’s autistic tells me that maskless people are triggering his anxieties. I get it. And what about if you can’t see “the other?” Being disabled in public requires that you believe strangers are obeying the law, that they’ll stop for red lights, place fencing around a hole in the pavement, behave with concern. The maskless throngs I’m hearing about scare the heck out of me. I’ve had pneumonia four times and almost died from the so called “Hong Kong” flu in 1969. If I can’t see you coming and you don’t care about my health then being on the street, any street, is an impossibility.

My guide dog can keep me from falling down stairs, stepping into traffic, hitting my head on low hanging branches, can find an escalator or the nearest door. But she can’t save me from the projective cruelty of Fox News addicts who think masks are just a cheap gimmick in the culture wars.

The disabled, blind or not, neurodiverse or not, wheelchair users or not, deaf or not, we need you to take our very survival with the utmost seriousness. This is especially true when it comes to colleges and universities that are now imagining how to reopen. Don’t grab us. Don’t breathe in our faces.

I was horrified to read that Johnny Cash’s granddaughter was verbally assaulted yesterday by a non mask wearing bully. She has a history of pulmonary problems. She’s me. She’s millions of us. Young and old. Overtly disabled or living with things you can’t see. The anti mask movement is essentially saying, “life is cheap.” And also: “I’m so much better than you are, because I don’t believe in facts.”

Here’s a fact: the disabled are the largest minority in the US. Our health matters. The vulgar idea that some lives are easily sacrificed for the “economy” is just repackaged Nazi era eugenics. Hitler said the disabled were useless eaters. The right wing stampede to reopen business without safeguards touts the notion that some lives are less valuable than others. Going maskless is their flag.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

4 thoughts on “On Going Maskless and Disability”

  1. Debbie Mowry, I’m not offended but rather filled with contempt for anyone who persists in watching Fox News, whether they’re disabled or not. Your “independence” is ensuring the constant dumbing down of the populace and the spread of lies. Your claims sound specious, including your feeling “personally offended” by Stephen’s blog post. It isn’t about you.


  2. oh boy, now I’m hearing someone assume that some one who doesn’t agree with them is only watching the liberal-biased media and I see my friend, Steve, assume that anyone who doesn’t wear a mask doesn’t care about disabled peoples’ lives, I love it, keep the fur flying folks. I think this discussion will give us all food for thought. I have seen during Covid nineteen times a lot of irrational behavior…people telling people who don’t have masks to f—f— off in public places I heard it with my own ears…and people who will yell at people for not wearing masks, and those who think it’s all a hoax, and think that masks are just the government trying to control us.. I am worried about covid19 but I am just as worried at what I see of human behavior. Take care everyone and try to do the best you can.just very strange and unpleasant behavior is what I see when I go out, and I’m a blind person with a guide dog. everyone we need to remember our hummanity, that’s all I’ll say.


  3. I’m sorry that you’re taking offense. I take offense at the idea that there are people who should be sacrificed for the economy. That’s a Fox News viewpoint. I didn’t make it up.


  4. I try to be an advocate for people with disabilities to the point I want to do web accessibility for people with disabilities and I personally take offense that you portray people who don’t want to wear masks as “Fox News” viewers and that they are Nazis. Well, I watch Fox News and I’m wearing a mask, not for myself but for others. Everyone I work with is doing the same thing and the majority of them are conservatives. I’m independent and watch both liberal and conservative views. I’ve also seen a bunch of bullies wearing masks chase a woman out of the store who wasn’t wearing a mask. What about the deaf person who needs to read lips can’t understand someone who is wearing a mask? The point is everyone is different and a person with a disability might have a problem wearing a mask so this mob very well might have chased a person with a different disability than yours, who can’t wear a mask. You’re thinking of your specific disability and not thinking about others. It sounds to me like you only ever watch the liberal-biased media and don’t bother to try to see both sides of the issue. Even the nicest person might have a bad day and you might run into that person on their bad day. If you want other people to watch out for you because you can’t see them you might need to start thinking about what they are going through and not assume that they don’t care if you die.


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