Who is speaking to whom and how? Revisiting pandemic communication & disability

Tanya Titchkosky, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; Aparna Menon, Dalla Lana School of Public Health

"Pandemic readiness initiatives are being launched world-wide and yet they continue to be done on inaccessible platforms, with no regard for diverse forms of communication, and no alternatives provided for disabled people. Unless pandemic readiness includes protocols that recognize the diversity of disability communication, future pandemics will inevitably result in the same catastrophic levels of death for disabled people (6 in 10 deaths [The Health Foundation, UK, 2021]), as well as extreme levels of disregard and isolation (Landes et al., 2021; Lunsky et al., 2022; Martin et al., 2022; Read et al., 2022).

This research project addresses systemic failures in health communication by examining past pandemic communication protocols regarding persons with disabilities [PWDs]. We do so by uncovering communication processes within the medical archives of two global public health influencers; the publicly funded University of Toronto, Canada and the Wellcome Trust Collection, London, UK. We focus on the largely post-colonial, post mass vaccination, pre-internet era of the 1960s to the 1990s. 

Public health archival research in the area of communication protocols can reveal how disability is addressed such that current pandemic mitigation initiatives deliver hazardous consequences for disabled people*. The research proposed in this project will reveal the conceptions of disability at play in pandemic communication protocols as they frame disability as a variability of vulnerability but not as a communicative co-participant. Through mapping such inclusions and exclusions, this research will ultimately impact the lives of disabled people by demonstrating the essential need for diverse communication in pandemic readiness plans.