What’s made this pandemic especially horrible is learning every day about how it’s made life worse for different people. We’ve read about it affecting businesses, children, the elderly, the homeless, and other people in different ways. Today we shine a light on another often-overlooked sector of American society that’s been hit especially hard: people with disabilities
On July 26, many marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark law that made discrimination against people with disabilities (PWDs) illegal. While it tried to ensure that Americans with disabilities would be given equal opportunities and rights as others, three decades later the struggle is ongoing. And COVID-19 is threatening to be a major setback.
How Has the Pandemic Affected People with Disabilities?
Communication and access to information. The rapid news cycles have made it difficult for people with hearing, vision, and cognitive disabilities to be updated with the latest information. The flow of news often goes past the disability community, which depends on specialized services for them to consume media.
Even having a conversation, which for the hearing-impaired requires facial expressions and lipreading, is made impossible by the requirement to wear masks.
Social distancing and washing hands pose unique challenges to those living with disabilities. Caregivers and assistants can’t socially distance when doing their jobs. Hand washing can be a challenge for people who have limited mobility. The guidelines that epidemiologists craft often miss people with disabilities, although the CDC did have resources for people with disabilities.
Access to healthcare services. This was already a challenge even before COVID-19, but it’s now exacerbated by the virus’s effect on the healthcare system. Areas with large outbreaks are prioritizing the treatment of coronavirus cases. Medical bias against PWDs, or the higher chance of health practitioners withholding or de-prioritizing the care of people with disabilities, has always been a struggle. In the past there have been many reports of negative bias impacting PWD health issues like health insurance, organ transplants, and certain kinds of testing.
In a pandemic, these issues are only worse. With overloaded healthcare systems and overworked doctors already warning that they may need to ration care for patients, PWDs are only too aware that they’ll be affected.
Slowdowns in social services. Essential social services are also struggling to operate. With unemployment at record highs and the worst recession in history imminent, many government agencies and private organizations are seeing their resources dwindle with the non-stop need to give aid to the vulnerable.
Agencies and organizations are also grappling with reduced work forces. There is absenteeism from sick employees and volunteers and guidelines that restrict the number of people who can work and be on the front lines. With these challenges, getting services such as disability benefits, financial assistance, and subsidized care becomes even less accessible.
How We Can Help
Is it going to get better anytime soon?
Not at the rate we’re going. This pandemic and its effect on the economy and people’s livelihoods will likely continue for a long time, and until then, what we need is to give support where we can.
- Volunteer or donate to nonprofits and charities that work with persons with disabilities.
- Use social media to share messages like these, or to highlight organizations like Ability First or Teaching Tolerance
This pandemic is an unprecedented tragedy, the costs of which we’ll discover and keep discovering, as the days go by. But by pulling together, we can make sure that we all pull though, and that no one is left behind.