Educate, Engage, Activate

Disabilities in the Time of COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 crisis started, the Network has been working to raise awareness about populations that are bearing inequitable burdens during what is inarguably a very difficult time for us all. In case you have missed them, here are the pieces we have written to date about immigrant communities and communities of color.
A population group that has received less attention are those with disabilities. It is important to clarify that the term “disabilities” is broad, the community far from monolithic, and that we can’t begin to cover all the ways in which COVID-19 has caused hardship. However, here are a few anecdotes highlighting how this crisis has further compounded challenges for those with disabilities.

  • Further restricted access: A person who uses a rollator walker tried to walk into the pharmacy she regularly uses, but was told that due to the coronavirus she can’t bring her rollator in. As the individual points out, able-bodied people are not told they have to take off their shoes to enter, yet somehow assistive devices are considered “dirty or unsanitary.”
  • Facing higher risk: Those not on Medicare but who need Personal Care Assistants to aid them with aspects of daily life require Personal Protective Equipment, which is increasingly difficult to obtain. Both the person in need of care and the caregiver risks their health without this gear, and if the caregiver gets sick, it is especially hard in these times to get a replacement. This leaves the patient in dire straits.
  • Critical gaps in services: Homebound persons with a disability may not be able to get groceries delivered because of the back-log caused by the increased demand for such services. Resources such as Meals on Wheels are not available to those under the age of 60, making access to food a life-and-death challenge. 
  • Educational Challenges: Children who receive Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and instruction via Extended Year Programs (EYP) through their schools are at serious risk of regressing in multiple areas, including social skills, academics, speech, occupational health, and life skills, as distance learning makes such learning modalities and therapies difficult to implement and internship/job skills training impossible. This may put these atypical learners at an even bigger disadvantage than it does students without educational challenges, when in-person school does ultimately resume.

The take-home message from a recent webinar entitled, “Disability Justice in the time of Coronavirus,” was that “disability justice is about making sure that people at the intersection of disabilities (and other identities) are able to be heard and validated and have their opinions matter.” The disability community deserves a shared understanding of the issues that people with disabilities contend with and collaborative problem-solving that takes into account the mental and emotional psychic energy required to be creative and adaptive. 

As we seek to redefine new societal norms to navigate this public health crisis we should be mindful of how right now accommodations make life easier for us all, and especially for those whose lives may be dependent on these accommodations. We can help to amplify the voices of people requiring accommodations at this critical time as aid legislation is being written, to be sure that the needs of these communities are not “pushed to the back of the line.”

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