By: Chas Barrie, Accessibility Advocate
Are Your Prepared?
We seem to be consumed with information about the COVID 19 outbreak throughout the world, and especially here in the United States. As the reality and the seriousness of the virus is realized after being confronted with the number of cases and the death rates throughout the world and such cities New York and others, it becomes apparent this threat is universal and real.
As previously stated, this virus doesn’t discriminate. The Corona virus does not care about race, gender, political affiliations, how educated you are, how much money you have, or whether you are disabled or not.
The COVID-19 virus crisis has the majority of people alarmed and looking for ways to protect them from becoming infected. In his blog for Forbes magazine, Andrew Pulrang writes: “One group faces additional risks and consequences, as well as anxieties: [people with disabilities] and/or chronic illness.”
The website arcmi.org states: “One in four adults in the US has a disability. Globally, well over 1 billion [people have disabilities].” This site also informs the reader: “[Persons with disabilities] require the same resources and assistance that everyone does-adequate information and instructions, social and medical services, and protection infection by those who contract the virus. However, some persons with disabilities may have needs that warrant specific steps by the public and private sectors that may not be necessary for others.”
In this article Pulrang provides 5 points to keep in mind for people with disabilities
1. The people most often cited as being at serious risk are largely, by some definition, people with disabilities.
Having a disability doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a greater chance of contracting the coronavirus. From the onset of the outbreak health officials warned those with underlying conditions were a greater risk, therefore the many people with specific disabilities or chronic conditions must be aware that the virus poses a much higher risk for them.
With every news report, or each time a health official voices a new concern about COVID 19, the anxiety for the person with a disability elevates. Every time there is a statement in the media attempting to reassure the public that this virus isn’t that deadly because it mainly kills or injuries high-risk people, for the disabled and the elderly this is alarming. As this continues, the lines between the chronically ill and the disabled become hazy, resulting in unfair stigmatizing. All the fear factors surrounding this pandemic, for people with disabilities this may be resulting in significantly increased anxiety, and anxiety itself poses a number of health risks.
2. It can be harder for people with disabilities to take prudent steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus outbreak.
It is logical to be prepared for an outbreak and to follow a plan, but many people with a disability or the chronically ill have experienced medical bureaucracy and difficulties with the response and flexible assistance they have needed. This has created an atmosphere of distrust for following effectively any previous recommendations.
It can be difficult for some people with a disability to isolate themselves as easily as recommended. For some there is a need for daily, direct one to one personal help for everyday care.
Normally grocery shopping can be an exhausting challenge for the disabled. Besides being extra demanding, in many cases this also requires arranging transportation.
For the non-disabled, frequent washing of hands is often not given a second thought, but for those with physical restrictions, along with possible interrupted service or environmental barriers, this simple task becomes difficult.
Finally, people with chronic health conditions worry about maintaining an adequate supply of needed medications. During normal times just keeping up with scheduled refills is challenging, but this becomes even more stressful during a public crisis.
3. COVID-19, coronavirus threatens not only the disabled’s health but their independence.
To begin his third point, Pulrang explains: “Some [people with disabilities] depend on regular help and support from others to maintain their independence-that is, their ability to live in their own homes, rather than in nursing homes, group homes, and other institutional settings. Outbreaks of communicable diseases can disrupt these services. Aides and caregivers may become sick themselves, or the risk of catching or spreading illness may require aides and caregivers to stay home, interrupting the [people with disabilities] services.”
During an outbreak, it is important to consider that an organized care facility may not necessarily be a safer place for the elderly and disabled. Although these facilities have an abundance of medical assets, one person with a disability with one or two cautious and prepared caregivers, may be better off at home with limited, and controlled isolation. This means we need to reexamine the views we may have about safety for various types of disabilities.
The risks from COVID-19 for the disabled and the elderly may not be from the actual disease, it may be from the resulting interference in normal services and the changes in daily routines.
4. This outbreak has the potential to add new perspectives and urgency to a number of long-term disability issues.
“Workplace accommodations and flexibility…”
For all of the people with a disability or chronic illnesses who continuously fight for flexible work arrangements like reasonable accommodations, and telecommuting, with the arrival of the coronavirus online technologies are now being seriously considered with a new appreciation by employers for the possibilities they offer for many employees, and not just the employees with disabilities and chronic health conditions.
“Centralized care in institutional facilities vs. decentralized home and community based services…”
In his blog, Pulrang notes: “preconceived ideas about the relative health risks of centralized care and decentralized home care are being viewed now in new ways. Many disability activists have for years contended that the purported safety of nursing homes and group homes for elderly and disabled is overrated.” Now that we are in the midst of the Corona pandemic Pulrang continues: “the fact despite the apparent advantages of more controlled, medically-supervised environments, there are also health risks involved in housing people with health vulnerabilities in hospitals and other kinds of care facilities.”
“Health care organization and affordability…”
One of the most polarizing topics in politics at this time is health care. While the politicians and the public alike have strong ideas concerning the cost and structure of the health care system in America, for the public to be able to control contagious disease necessitates the immediate access to medical care, reasonable cost and with minimal red tape. While developing a balance between taking preventative steps and the associated high medical bills, the public suffers.
5. You can help a lot just by being aware and sensitive to the specific risks and obstacles faced by people with disabilities in an outbreak of contagious illness like COVID 19.
Remember that panic is not beneficial. Do not diminish the risks or attempt to talk a person with a disability out of being apprehensive about their health risks. Considering the person with a disability’s possible past experiences, their concerns may be justified. In all likelihood it is not getting sick that worries them, it is the support system they have to rely on.
The disabled need everyone they associate with to allow as much emotional support as possible and as they may need. Pulrang believes: “now is not the time to tighten the reins, or try to impose what you think is best for the [person disabled].”
Take their concerns seriously; remain healthy so you are able to help.
Arcm.org reminds its readers: “[Persons with disabilities] must be able to receive timely and accessible information about steps they must take to minimize the risk of infection; what actions are being taken that may affect their living arrangements; and the availability of services, caregivers, medication, and other changes critical to their personal planning and preparedness that may directly impact their daily life.”
This statement continues on:” Government entities must provide communication that is equally effective to all at all times. This includes ensuring that all televised public announcements are live-captioned and provided by qualified sign language interpreters. Websites and other digital and electronic information must be accessible to people with vision, hearing, learning, and dexterity disabilities, and to individuals who do not read print because of their disability.”
There is much more information on the concerns about COVID 19 and the disabled on line. Below there are listed a small sampling of available websites for additional information.
Pulrang, Andrew. (2020). 5 Things to Know About Coronavirus and People with Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewpulrang/2020/03/08/5-things-to-know-about-coronavirus-and-people-with-disabilities/#784012ce1d21
[Noted: the termed Disabled people or persons in this articles has been edited to comply with NYS People First Policy]
Michigan, The Arc. (2020). Planning & Response re: COVID-19 for persons with disabilities. Retrieved from: https://arcmi.org/2020/03/04/planning-response-re-covid-19-for-persons-with-disabilities/
For additional Information: