In this paper, we propose a conceptual framework for understanding the impact of the policy responses to COVID-19 on disabled people. These responses have overwhelmingly focused on individual vulnerability, which has been used as a justification for removing or restricting rights. This suggests the need to shift the attention towards the social determinants of disabled people’s vulnerability. We do this by bringing literature on social vulnerability in disaster risk management or ‘disaster studies’ in contact with key concepts in disability studies such as the social model of disability, independent living, intersectionality, and biopower. Empirically, we draw on the findings of the global COVID-19 Disability Rights Monitor (www.covid-drm.org), as well as on reports from academic journals, civil society publications, and internet blogs. We put the proposed conceptual framework to work by developing a critical analysis of COVID-19 policies in three interrelated areas – institutional treatment and confinement of disabled people, intersectional harms, and access to healthcare. Our conclusion links this analysis with strategies to address disabled people’s social vulnerability in post-pandemic reconstruction efforts. We make a case for policies that address the social, economic, and environmental conditions that disproportionately expose disabled people to natural disasters and hazards.


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Mladenov, T. & Brennan, C. 2021, 'Social vulnerability and the impact of policy responses to COVID-19 on disabled people', Sociology of Health & Illness. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.13379

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Last updated: 03 September 2022
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