COVID-19 Public Health Survey

As service organizations supporting people with disabilities, we understand our population is one
of the at-risk groups for contracting the COVID-19 virus. In response, The Access Center for Independent Living, Breaking Silences Advocacy Committee, the Ohio Disability and Health Program at the OSU Nisonger Center, and Centers for Independent Living around Ohio distributed a needs survey to identify disability needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendations for health departments, broken down by the issues enumerated in the survey and in our discussions with people with disabilities across the state that were of greatest concern:

(Click on issue to read description)

A. Health Departments should be the main source of information on the COVID-19 pandemic for people with disabilities. To do so, they need to have a variety of different methods of communicating with people with disabilities including via website; social media; a call-line; e-mails; texts; television; public service mailings, and outreach to the full network of disability services and agencies within their community, including 211. Town halls and webinars with clear information are also large scale efforts that could inform marginalized communities, not just those with disabilities, about current and everchanging states of emergency.

B. Health Departments should plan for disruption of in-home care during public health emergencies by coordinating with local hospitals, agencies, and local nursing and STNA programs to find back-up caregivers. It is not appropriate to place a person in a nursing home or long-term care facility as a response to a shortage or unreliability of in-home care providers. Additionally, Health Departments should ensure that in-home agency, independent providers, and family and friend providers have access to PPE, COVID-19 testing, and vaccinations in order to minimize service disruptions and shortages.

C. Testing and vaccination sites are difficult to access for people with disabilities who have no method of transportation. Health departments need to ensure that pandemic response programs are accessible to people without transportation. Also, there needs to be a mobile program that goes to individuals’ homes, shuttles, or some sort of arranged transportation to these sites.

D. People with disabilities have had difficulty accessing healthcare during the pandemic, which affects their ability to be independent and engage in Activities of Daily Living. Several areas of concern are:

  • a. Lack of internet connectivity or ability to afford internet has affected access to telehealth services: Health Departments should work within their network of local agencies to set up computer or tablet and internet hotspot lending closets, or otherwise assist with access to the internet for people who can’t afford access or are not internet savvy.
  • b. Medical Setting Visitation Policies Health Departments should work with regional hospitals and medical facilities to ensure that no-visitor policies have exceptions for people with disabilities who need a family member, friend, or aide to accompany them; policies should allow for more than one successive caregiver for extended stays.
  • c. Lack of Communication Accommodations Health Departments should work with regional hospitals and medical facilities to ensure that ASL interpreters and other communication accommodations are available during Emergency Room visits, stays at hospitals and other medical facilities. Health departments should also work with these entities to make sure that communication is not compromised because of masks for people who read lips or those who have hearing impairments and cannot understand an obstructed or muffled voice.
  • d. Issues navigating an Emergency Room or hospital admission and staying safe: Health Departments should work with regional hospitals to ensure that Scarce Allocation of Resources policies do not make decisions based on disability and stereotypical, unjustified assumptions about low quality of life. Hospitals should not have policies that allow releasing folks into nursing homes simply because they have a disability and there are scarce resources. Health Departments must work with hospitals to ensure that folks do not spend long periods of time in waiting rooms in a potentially infectious environment.
  • e. Rude, unprofessional doctors or staff Health departments should work with local medical providers to give training on how to serve folks with disabilities. Medical professionals should be prepared to make policy modifications when necessary to respect the rights of people with disabilities.

E. Many health department guidelines for social distancing and other pandemic safety developed for businesses and health care facilities did not consider wheelchair dimensions or other disability access. Guidelines should be revised to ensure that people who use mobility aids are considered and appropriately accommodated and that businesses are aware that people with disabilities are entitled to reasonable modifications of policies.

F. It is clear from our survey results that food insecurity is affecting people with disabilities, especially those who are isolated in their homes due to health fears, unemployment, increased barriers to health care, and lack of public transportation. Health departments need to work with local agencies and providers to ensure that food can be delivered to individuals’ homes.

G. Health departments should work with doctors and therapists in their region to ensure that they are able to continue to provide services if services need to shift to virtual service in the future. In-person services should resume as quickly as possible for individuals who experience barriers that prevent the effective use of virtual services. Additionally, virtual services should continue to be an option for folks who need it even after the pandemic protocols are no longer necessary.

H. People with disabilities who rely on medical equipment and medications that are also being used by hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients had difficulty getting ahold of needed equipment and medication. Health departments should work to ensure that this equipment and medications are available to individuals who need them for other health conditions.

I. The lack of information and politization of the pandemic instilled a lot of fear in people. The lack of clear information about how the virus is transmitted, i.e. via surfaces, packages and mail, and when there may be a risk in taking a vaccine. Mixed information about how the virus is transmitted and how to stay safe caused a lot of fear. Multiple methods of communicating information, as outlined above, would be beneficial to mitigating some fear.

While we are optimistic about the roll-out of vaccines in Ohio, and some people with disabilities have been included in the first two rounds of vaccine priorities, there is still work to be done. Undoubtedly, the effects of this pandemic are likely to be felt for years to come. Additionally, many of the needs uncovered during this pandemic are ongoing for people with disabilities and simply became more urgent during an upheaval of our traditional systems. There are many opportunities to streamline, adjust and improve disaster response methods utilized during the pandemic and we look forward to working with you to address some of these needs and provide thoughtful, inclusive service for people with disabilities.

The 12 Centers for Independent Living in Ohio are consumer-controlled, cross-disability and provide services for people with disabilities. We are intensely regional organizations, situated in each of our communities in nearly every Ohio region.