What Does the New Normal Look Like for People with Disabilities?

Published on: July 1, 2020

As COVID-19 cases begin to recede throughout the country, many states are starting to reopen and evaluate what changes to make to ensure safety. Signs of the “new normal” after COVID-19 can be seen everywhere; it may look like restaurants serving food again with outside seating, stores reopening their doors but with capacity requirements, and a reliance on telemedicine appointments in health care. 

However, as more people leave their homes and say goodbye to any self-quarantine measures, what does that mean for people with disabilities? Certain groups are especially vulnerable to severe complications of the coronavirus, including many people with disabilities, so precautions can be taken to stay as safe as possible in the “new normal” of post-COVID-19 life. 

Precautions for Shopping & Dining out with Disabilities

Since people with disabilities may be more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19, there is cause to take extra safety measures when shopping and dining out. Although stores and restaurants are reopening with extra precautions, vulnerable people groups should take extra measures to ensure their safety and minimize their risk of virus transmission. 

If Shopping with Disabilities...

When out shopping in stores, it would be wise to continue basic COVID-19 precautions, even if the rest of the store isn’t upholding them. Continue to avoid crowded areas and practice social distancing (keeping at least a 6 foot distance from others). Always continue to wear a face covering when shopping in stores and public areas and avoid touching your face. If you’re using a shopping cart, bring disinfecting wipes to clean the cart before use. And of course, use hand sanitizer after leaving stores and wash hands with soap and water once you get home. 

If stores have online delivery services, try to utilize them as much as possible. The less time that you shop in person, the more you’ll limit your potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus

Some stores offer special hours for people who are high risk, such as the elderly and those with underlying medical problems. Find out what of your favorite stores have these special hours and do your shopping then. If stores don’t offer these special hours, try to avoid shopping during peak hours and opt for when traffic is lower than normal, such as late night or early morning. 

If Dining Out with Disabilities…

Although restaurants are supposed to be implementing extreme hygiene practices, it’s always wise to exercise caution. While safety measures, such as contactless payments, staff temperature readings, disposable menus, and limited capacity help with minimizing risk of transmission, dining out at a restaurant still provides a risk. 

If you are a person with disabilities and underlying health conditions that may make you susceptible to serious infections, then ordering food to go may still be the most safest option. However, if you do plan on dining out at a restaurant, there are a few measures you can take to ensure that you are keeping yourself as safe as possible. 

Make sure you stay at least 6 feet away from other customers. Although social distancing is supposed to be reinforced in restaurants, smaller restaurants may be unable to space out tables as far as they should. Choosing a restaurant with strict limits on capacity - both people being serviced, and those working - will be the safest option. Opt for a bigger and well-ventilated restaurant as opposed to a smaller one since social distancing will be harder to enforce. If there is an outside seating area, such as a patio or desk, ask to sit outside for even better ventilation. 

Traveling with Disabilities After COVID-19 

If you have a road trip in your near future, you may be wondering how COVID-19 will affect it. Traveling away from your community as COVID-19 recedes still offers plenty of precautions. For instance, are COVID-19 cases increasing where you’re going? Some states are still considered high-risk and travelers are advised against visiting, especially if they are prone to serious COVID-19 complications. 

The CDC offers some considerations to think about when traveling, including: 

  • Maintain social distancing at rest stops, parks, and places where you’re traveling.
  • Wear a face mask in public places.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer with at last 60% alcohol, after you’ve been in a public space.
  • Opt to pick up food at drive-throughs while on the road. Choose curbside restaurant services or stores when at your destination if possible. 

Remember to check with the state or local government at your destination or where you live to about self-quarantine. Some states and local governments require people to stay home or in place for fourteen days after they have traveled to or from a specific location. 

How to Stay Safe on Trips to the Doctors and In-home Caregiving

While the CDC has recommended canceling all non-essential doctors appointments, this is not possible for many. However, some medical visits and in-person caregiving are essential for many people with disabilities. For those who cannot forgo their visits, here are some additional ways to stay safe. 

If You’re Taking a Trip to the Doctor…

Before you physically enter the doctor's office for an appointment, it would be wise to check its website or call the clinic to see what COVID-19 precautions they are implementing. Check if they are requiring staff and patients to wear masks, have sanitizing protocols for elevators, waiting room, or frequently touched surfaces, and capacity limits for the waiting room. 

During your visit, remember basic precautions such as wearing cloth makes, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands after touching public surfaces. 

For many, the new normal for doctors visits doesn’t involve leaving their house. Health care providers have adopted telehealth as an effective way to triage and treat patients without the need for an in-person visit. Though the pandemic has reduced barriers to telehealth access, it’s likely that this virtual technology as a way to virtually deliver primary, chronic, and specialty care will be a part of the new normal of healthcare after COVID-19.

If your appointments do not require in-person procedures, ask your doctor about telemedicine appointment options. Video, phone calls, and telemedicine apps may allow you to consult with your doctors from home without the need to step outside your door. 

If You’re Receiving In-home Caregiving… 

Social distancing is especially difficult for in-home caregivers, since much of their care requires close contact with their patients. However, many patients, including people with disabilities, require the feeding, bathing, and grooming that in-home caregivers allow. 

For those who require in-home caregiving but are worried about risk of transmission,  caregivers, therapists, and personal aides performing in-person care are taking extra measures to mitigate risk of COVID-19 infection and exposure.

Many caregiving staff members are required to conduct self-monitoring, including having their temperature taken at the start of the day and checking for  symptoms of cough, fever, shortness of breath, or any signs of coronavirus exposure.

Like with doctor’s visits, many caregivers are opting for telehealth appointments if possible. If certain procedures do not require in-person care, check with your caregiver if they offer phone calls, video calls, health apps, email, or other technologies to reduce contact. 

Basic COVID-19 Precautions to Keep in Mind 

Always remember to keep basic COVID-19 precautions. Even though the economy may be reopening, don’t forget to practice proper measures:

  • Keep at least a 6 foot physical difference between people when out in public.
  • Avoid large crowds
  • Wear a face mask when in public. 
  • Refrain from touching your eyes, noise, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly-touched surfaces with sanitizers.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or with hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. 

We at Disability Experts of Florida continue to protect and support all people with disabilities as we navigate the “new normal” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you feel your rights have been violated or would like more information about disability benefits, speak with one of our caring advocates today.

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