Published on: June 24, 2020
Whether it's the shift to a remote workforce or social distancing guidelines, the challenges of COVID-19 have been felt by much of the world. However, the impact has been especially felt by the disability community. On top of the regular challenges presented by the coronavirus, people with disabilities have been presented with increased challenges brought by obstacles to healthcare, and safety.
People with disabilities are a vulnerable group already susceptible to serious and fatal complications from COVID-19, so it’s important to be aware of concerns and challenges in order to stay as safe as possible through this pandemic.
Barriers to COVID-19 Resources
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new obstacles for people with disabilities, but also has highlighted pre-existing barriers. Communication has always been a challenge for people with impaired vision, hearing, and even cognitive disabilities, as news sources may not be delivered in an accessible format.
Many people with disabilities have attested to the limited COVID-19 resources provided for that are accessible for the disabled community. Being informed is integral for people to continue to stay safe and help “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases, but vulnerable groups are finding that their needs are being overlooked.
Despite much of the data and resources on COVID-29 being inaccessible for people with disabilities, some are trying to remove this hurdle. Software developer Tyler Littlefield was frustrated with the lack of information provided for people with disabilities. So Littlefield, who is blind, built an accessible COVID-19 statistics tracker to provide data that’s compatible with a screen reader.
Littlefield hopes that his tracker will help people like him “...deal with some of that anxiety of not having access to the numbers and not knowing what's going on in your state," he was quoted as saying.
Safety & Public Health Strategies
The CDC has recommended public health strategies to help curb COVID-19’s spread and to prevent infection, such as washing hands with soap and water and practicing social distancing. However, adopting these safety measures is not always possible for people with disabilities, leaving this group especially vulnerable to serious complications from COVID-19. For example, sinks may be physically inaccessible for a person with disabilities and leave them unable to wash their hands. Drive-thru testing facilities do not take into account people with disabilities who cannot drive or rely on state mobility services. People with disabilities may also be unable to place a face mask on securely by themselves.
Additionally, some people with disabilities are unable to participate with social distancing guidelines because of their dependence on caregivers. The CDC recommends keeping a six foot distance to prevent being exposed to the virus, but caregivers cannot keep such limited contact. Caregivers need to take extra precautionary measures when providing care to people with disabilities since even people who appear healthy could be asymptomatic and unknowingly spread the coronavirus.
Limited Access to Healthcare
People with disabilities are especially concerned about receiving the healthcare they need during COVID-19. Barriers to healthcare access, as well as the allocation of medical resources and supplies, has been a particular concern to both people with disabilities and their advocates.
In order to prevent overwhelming hospitals who are already taxed because of the virus, people have been recommended to postpone or cancel unnecessary and routine appointments. However, many people with disabilities need routine procedures to carry on living comfortably or to stay healthy. Due to the prioritization of COVID-patients in health services, many people with disabilities are worried that they would be unable to access the healthcare they need.
There is also worry that the allocation of valuable medical supplies will be deprioritized for patients with disabilities. Fears that the needs of people with disabilities may not be prioritized have been so stressed that the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines to hospitals condemning any discrimination against patients based on disabilities, whether physical or cognitive.
How can People with Disabilities Stay Safe with In-home Care?
Despite all the obstacles that COVID-19 has brought, the pandemic has also provided future opportunities for the disability community. There has been a major shift in healthcare towards telehealth services, which would provide a more accessible health care system for patients with disabilities.
But for people who require in-home care, what are some ways to ensure safety? In order to keep both themselves and their patients safe, caregivers who are providing in-home services need to take strict precautions. This may mean wearing gloves and a cloth mask while at home with the patient, and continuing to practice social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings during after-hours. In case their caregiver does become infected, people with disabilities should have a contingency plan in place to ensure their needs will still be met. For instance, they should create a contact list of family, friends, neighbors, or even local service agencies that can help provide support if their primary caregiver becomes ill.
Although COVID-19 has brought plenty of concerns about the impact the virus has on the disability community, the virus has also elevated conversations about barriers to people with disabilities that were overlooked before. For those living with disabilities, life after the pandemic may provide opportunities to address disability inequities so as to provide more accessibility than ever before.
At Disability Experts of Florida, we continue to protect and support all people with disabilities throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. If you feel your rights have been violated or would like more information about disability benefits, speak with one of our caring advocates today.