COVID-19 through the Lens of Disability

Solicited by the OAH Committee on Disability and Disability History

Thursday, April 15, 2021, 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Disability Studies; Science, Medicine, and Public Health


This roundtable session will explore how disability has informed thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic and the weighing of its accompanying risks, how disability might shape the future of the pandemic and its aftermath, and how disability and universal design might help us meet the challenges of the coming year in just and equitable ways. Presenters will offer lessons for COVID-19 and a post-COVID-19 future by examining transformations in policy around polio and polio survivors’ activism, contextualizing and historicizing attitudes toward disability to address ongoing disparities, and exploring deafness, attitudes about signed languages, and communication access during COVID-19.

Session Participants

Chair: Sandy Sufian, Disability history
Sandy Sufian is an Associate Professor of Health Humanities and History in the Department of Medical Education at UIC School of Medicine and Associate Professor of Disability Studies in the Department of Disability and Human Development (UIC). Sufian received her doctorate from New York University in Middle East History and her Masters of Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from Oregon Health Sciences University. Dr. Sufian specializes in the history of medicine and disability. She has published two books: Healing the Land and the Nation: Malaria and the Zionist project in Mandatory Palestine, 1920-1947 (U Chicago Press, 2007) and Reapproaching the Border: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel/Palestine (Rowman Littlefield, 2007). Sufian is publishing a book on the history of disability and adoption in America in the twentieth century (University of Chicago Press, expected Fall 2021). She teaches courses on the history of disability and the modern history of medicine and public health to medical students, PhD students and undergraduate students. She co-organizes the Health and Society working group at UIC's Institute for the Humanities and is the co-founder of the Cystic Fibrosis Reproductive and Sexual Health Collaborative ( Sufian served as president of the Disability History Association and serves on the editorial board of Disability Studies Quarterly and was on the board of the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Presenter: Pamela Block Ph.D., Western University
Dr. Pamela Block is a cultural anthropologist and disability studies scholar whose research focuses on “disability culture” and cultural perceptions of disability in the United States, Brazil and Canada. She studies disability experience on individual, organizational and community levels, focusing on socio-environmental barriers, empowerment/capacity-building, and health promotion. Her qualitative research methodologies combine historical and discourse analyses with community-based ethnographic and participatory approaches. She is particularly interested in multiple marginalization and the intersections of gender, race, poverty, and disability in movements for disability liberation (justice and rights) and disability oppression (eugenics, sterilization, mass-incarceration and killing in Brazil, the United States and Canada). Dr. Block engages actively in discussions of the emergence of neurodivergence and disability studies in Brazil and other Global South Countries. Current research includes “Aging Out of Children’s Hospitals and Health Systems,” the study of youth and adults with complex medical conditions that require technologies such as mechanical ventilation and 24-hour skilled nursing for survival. Publications include: Allies and Obstacles: Disability Activism and Parents of Children with Disabilities
Allison C. Carey, Pamela Block, and Richard K. Scotch, Temple University Press Occupying Disability: Critical Approaches to Community, Justice, and Decolonizing Disability
Block, P., Kasnitz, D., Nishida, A., Pollard, N.

Presenter: Hannah Esther Greene, New York University
Hannah Greene is a doctoral candidate in American Jewish history at New York University’s Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, where she specializes in immigration, gender, and disability studies. Her dissertation, Able to Be American: American Jews and the Public Charge Provision in United States Immigration Policy, 1891-1934, explores how American Jews engaged with discrimination on the basis of health, disability, and poverty in federal immigration law and its enforcement. Through centering immigrant advocates like Cecilia Razovsky and Max Kohler, who emphasized and contested constructions of “defect” in policy and its administration, her research investigates American Jewish leaders’ conceptions of American citizenship at the intersection of gender and disability. Hannah's dissertation analyzes how American Jewish communal leaders responded to public charge’s selection and classification of immigrants into the “desirable” and “undesirable,” and in the process shaped their own political roles and voices. She has published an article on disability and Jewish immigration in the AJS Review, and presented on her research at conferences including the American Jewish Historical Society Biennial Scholars Conference, the Association of Jewish Studies Annual Conference, the Scholar-Activist Forum at CUNY Graduate Center, and the Jews, Money, Myth International Workshop at Birkbeck, University of London. She was also invited to present at the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting cancelled due to Coronavirus, and at the forthcoming American Historical Association Conference in January 2021.

Presenter: Octavian Elijah Robinson, Gallaudet University
Octavian E. Robinson is associate professor of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University. A historian and disability studies scholar, he earned his Ph.D. in history from The Ohio State University. He has published on deaf women’s history, ableist rhetoric, language attitudes, neoliberal critiques of universities in disability contexts, and deaf people’s campaigns for citizenship in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His current projects include essays on the public consumption of signed languages as a commodity, gendering the Deaf President Now disability rights movement, and deaf respectability politics during the turn of the 20th century in the United States. He also has forthcoming publications on epistemic violence in signed language interpreting discourse, language attitudes in relation to performative whiteness and disability, and impostor syndrome among deaf academics in higher education.