Off with face masks: The ablism creeping into comments about removing masks once vaccinated

More and more people are receiving Covid vaccinations, and life is beginning to bloom again. We are like caged creatures, bursting out the open door with frenzy. We seem to think we need to make up time for the past year-and-a-half.

I admit, easing back into a routine of here-there-and-everywhere, feels good, if a smidge unnerving at the same time. Dipping our toes into emergence, my family visited the mall last weekend for the first time. Actually, this was our first time at this particular mall since we moved to a new city last September and have rarely left the house unless absolutely necessary. So, it was a perfect opportunity to explore what this mall offers.

Sidebar: Nothing to write home about.

However, I’m rankled by social media comments that are, well, ablist.

During the entire pandemic, the devoutest mask-wearer has lamented the loss of seeing faces. Odes have been written about the lack of human connection, because we can’t hug, kiss, hold and otherwise physically touch people. Emotional posts plastered all over social media wallow, comparing love and connection to the senses. Apparently, without these senses, life is not possible; love is not possible.

This is all predicated upon ablist ideals.

In order to not be called radical, extremist and too serious, I must give the obligatory statement that on a level, I get it. I used to be sighted; seeing things is nice. Touch can be a warm and inviting things for those who want it. Experiencing the world with our physical being can be magical and wonderous.

But the reality is that for many disabled people, we live life experiencing it alongside non-disabled people but sometimes in a different way.

Some of us don’t see at all, or very little. Some do not hear, or hear well. Some do not find any form of touching comfortable. Some use mobility devices. Some require different methods for comprehension and clarity.

The list goes on.

None of this equates to us lacking connection. None of this means we do not experience a variety of meaningful relationships. It does not stop us from living, hurdling ablism to reach goals and establish a place in this world.

Many of us are hopeful, but stepping out in trepidation, traumatized by the past year. It’s not easy. Flinging off our face masks feels symbolic, like we have some semblance of control again.

Even though I can no longer see people, it’s awkward smiling at people with a face mask on. They have no idea, and as far as they know, I’m just staring. Well, at least in some way, it’s created a level playing field. I know my kids are relieved to yank their masks off. A revel is happening, and we are partying like it’s 1999.

My point is this: Take stock where feelings and thoughts come from. We learned in 2020 to consider inherent bias, educating ourselves on the world around us and experiences different from our own. This consideration needs to be equally given to disability and ablism.

Every time I see comments about how lovely it is to see full faces and smiles again, and how people feel they can finally meaningfully connect again because of this, I wonder, “Do you think I’m incapable of meaningful connection then?”

Because, like it or not, as uncomfortable as it may make you, this is what these comments equate too.

I’m thrilled many of us are feeling safer from Covid. I too enjoy a maskless face. I’m not trying to take this away. I simply want people to consider how many of these comments are rooted in ablism. Be happy about a maskless future. For those who can, delight in seeing smiles. For those comfortable with it, cheer for physical closeness again.

But please stop equating all this to human connection.

By LitMommy

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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