Essential Yet Disposable: Food, Flowers, and Filth in the Pandemic Era

Dr. Rebecca Monteleone (she/her)

(Sponsored by College of Education)

2021 Disability Summit
April 13, 2021 – 10:50 AM-11:15AM

Twitter: @BeccaMonteleone


Employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have long been critiqued for being limited to socially undesirable, low-wage positions. Colloquially known as the 3Fs – Food (restaurant, cafeteria, and other food service), Flowers (landscaping), and Filth (janitorial) – these traditionally devalued roles have suddenly been recast as indispensable in the pandemic era. With the abrupt reclassification to “essential work,” workers with intellectual disabilities are suddenly confronted with unprecedented recognition for their labor entangled with an increased demand for risk to their health and wellbeing. Drawing from a series of interviews with workers with intellectual disabilities – with positions ranging from grocery store clerk to food service in nursing facilities – I will consider the paradox of essential work conducted by socially undervalued bodyminds.

Speech Text (PDF

Presentation Slides (PDF)


Dr. Rebecca Monteleone is an assistant professor of Disability Studies at the University of Toledo. Her work focuses on centering the perspectives and experiences of disabled people in areas in which they have historically invalidated, including healthcare, technology design, and public discourse. She has received fellowships and scholarships from the US-UK Fulbright Commission, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and has published research in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, the Journal of Responsible Research and Innovation, and IEEE Technology and Society, among others. She is motivated by the imaginative possibilities of anti-ableist worlds made possible only through valuing diverse bodies and minds. In addition to scholarly work, she has more than a decade of experience working with disability organizations, specializing in developing plain language and Easy Read policy and guidance documents.