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Everyday Heroes: She took her activism online

The Forward asked readers to tell us about the “everyday heroes” in their lives, people extraordinary things in this extraordinary time. If you know someone acting heroically right now, let us know — we’ll be adding to the collection in the coming days.

Disability activist Judy Mark.

Disability activist Judy Mark. Image by courtesy of Judy Mark

Name: Judy Mark, Disability Voices United, President

How she started: In early March, Judy Mark attended an academic conference on healthcare within the disability community. Although America’s first coronavirus hotspots were developing, speakers barely mentioned the virus and seemed unconcerned by its spread. With years of experience as a disability rights advocate and a parent of an autistic son, she felt keenly attuned to the effects a pandemic would have on this particularly vulnerable group. A few days later, at a board meeting for Disability Voices United, an advocacy group she founded, Mark suggested that the group devote all its efforts to providing coronavirus-related resources.

What she’s doing: In mid-March, as stay-at-home orders took effect across the country, many were scrambling to make sense of the new normal. But by shifting focus early, Disability Voices United had already launched a special coronavirus website with lists of local resources and explanations of disability rights in Spanish and English. Mark also organized a survey to record the challenges people with disabilities have faced during the pandemic and a series of webinars on topics from emergency preparedness to mental health. With only 24 hours of notice, the first attracted over 700 attendees.

Just weeks before, Mark said, she had no idea how to run a webinar. Now, she’s just concluded her fifth. “We can do it all, baby,” she said.

Why it matters: Coronavirus has been hugely disruptive for almost everyone, but it’s especially difficult for those who require extra care, government services, and structured routines. Disabled people are more likely to live in poverty or in congregant settings, putting them at higher risk for contracting the disease. Meanwhile, some institutions have failed to deliver adequate resources: some schools, for example, have provided online learning plans for all students except those with disabilities.

Mark hopes the online resources she’s gathered will give people a better understanding of the services to which they’re entitled and help them to advocate for themselves when help isn’t forthcoming.

“People are desperate for information,” she said. “And desperate to connect.”

Inspired? Read about more everyday heroes here.

Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at connelly@forward.com.

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