“Success story” without disabled people

by Yiota Karagianni, Greece

Nighttime lights in a city

Over the past decade Greek economic crisis has had profound social effects. During this economic turmoil disabled people more than any other social group suffered not only economically, but socially as well, representing an imaginary threat to societal values and interests. The level of disability allowances was already very low compared to other EU countries; in 2012 the Government changed disability categories and redefined the terms of entitlement to welfare provisions. The eligibility criteria (using a mixture of the ICF and ICD-10 tools) changed, focusing primarily on impairment, resulting in cuts to welfare provisions. At the same time, a huge media campaign took place to expose the existence of ‘Disabled frauds’ and ‘benefit cheaters.’ Generalised blame was placed on disabled people so that a re-evaluation of who is and who is not deserving of benefits was justified. During the same period the National Confederation of Disabled People (NCDP) in Greece chose to remain silent in the face of this attack and urged its members to accept the new criteria so that fairness to the “genuine” disabled may be ensured.

COVID-19, the invisible enemy, found the Greek disabled and chronically ill people struggling with poverty and discrimination. The world has heard the Greek success story in the battle against covid-19: Decisions, lock down and public health measures were taken timely. But let us untangle the plot by focusing on a two – dimensional conception of injustice: mis-recognition and mal-redistribution, which according to Nancy Frazer (2000) ‘can grasp the imbrication of class inequality and status hierarchy’. 

Politics of misrecognition

Daily announcements referred to vulnerable groups, such as the old and chronically ill still no reference to disabled people! Emphasis was placed on individual responsibility for the protection of the aged and the ill. Disabled employees and parents of disabled children were not included in the legal act (FEK A’55/11.03.2020) for the leave of absence. There was no formal information for programmed disability evaluation / re-evaluation dates and consequently no information for the allowances. And amidst it all welfare cuts were announced for the children of the disabled parents.

TV spots including disabled people appeared only recently with the motto “we stay at home” provoking bitter/ironic comments from (what is new for the disabled that live all their lives in the Greek architectural apartheid?) a disability group ‘Welcome to the world of quarantine’ (Newspaper ETHNOS, 05.04.2020) was their response. 

Roma and refugees are the social groups that attention has been given to, in the form of tests done and everyday living goods distributed. Humanitarian benevolent speeches have been given. Refugee camps, Roma neighbourhoods and care homes for the elderly were examined and quarantined as spaces that can spread the contamination. Despite the ongoing discussion for the deinstitutionalisation in public discourse, there has been no reference and no protection measurements from COVID-19 for state institutions and asylum disabled residents

Politics of malredistribution

To compensate for the economic disaster threatening specific groups of society, designated as economically vulnerable, the government distributed considerable amounts of money to the unemployed, the laid off workers, business owners who locked down their companies and recently to university students. Despite the fact that poverty has been traditionally closely related to disability, the disabled have not been included in the at-risk and vulnerable groups of beneficiaries. And as Niklas Altermark (2020) comments ‘the neglect of vulnerability is also a system of distribution of vulnerability.’


The spread of COVID-19 has deepened the invisibility of the disabled. The rekindling of collective solidarity is a window of hope. Disabled activist group ZERO TOLERANCE since the beginning of the covid-19 crisis in early March has brought to fore, with contributions to newspapers and networks, the situation of the disabled (who are poor, low paid, unemployed, elderly, school age children, asylum residents, refugees, women and people living alone in the community) promoting a broad understanding of a group combating with the ‘multidimensional oppressive matrix’ (Humphrey, 2000). 

Moreover, the ZERO TOLERANCE featured the issue of caregivers and private domestic workers who are often racialised immigrant women without legal papers, social security numbers or benefits and are restrained in their role as caregivers being doubly inhibited by control regulations. 

Serious discussions on recognition politics are accommodated in the ZERO TOLERANCE forum; information is offered to the disabled, their families and domestic workers. Support telephone lines are offered, and a support group has been formed for all the disabled who need help. 

The Covid-19 era is developing into a historical moment that lends itself to reflection, acts of solidarity and opportunity for change. 


Altermark, Ν. (2020). The function of risk groups. 

Humphrey, J. C. (2000). Researching disability politics, or some problems with the social model in practice. Disability & Society, 15(1), 63-86.

Fraser, N. (2000). Rethinking recognition. New left review, 3, 107.

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