The Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the Disabled
How has the COVID-19 Pandemic affected people with disabilities?
Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected all of us. Social distancing and following recommended health and safety procedures have unsettled daily life, making these trying times for everyone. But for people with disabilities, who experienced challenges in navigating their lives even before the pandemic, the effects of COVID-19 have been especially harsh. In addition to problems faced by the general population, many disabled people rely on special services to which they no longer have access, including regular medical treatment, public transportation and public assistance.
The people who are most often considered at serious risk of infection are people with disabilities.
Though being disabled does not necessarily mean a person is likely to contract the virus, people with disabilities often have compromised immune systems or an underlying medical condition which makes them particularly vulnerable to infectious disease. As a result, a person with a disability may experience more social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Any anxiety a disabled person may experience about contracting the virus is only amplified by news reports and incorrect assumptions that only the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions are at risk.
This unfairly stigmatizes people with disabilities who are deeply concerned about discrimination in healthcare and made them more fearful about access to healthcare and medical resources. For example, they may worry that allocation of medical equipment, such as ventilators, may be discriminatory toward people with disabilities. This is a valid issue stemming from the misconception that people with disabilities cannot have a high quality of life and therefor their needs will be given a low priority. Six states have triage plans allowing doctors to take ventilators from patients who use them in their normal daily life to help other patients. Disability rights advocates have filed formal complaints in four states and Alabama recently changed its policy after the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights conducted a review.
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People with disabilities may find it more difficult to take the steps needed to protect themselves from infection.
A person who relies on public transportation cannot take advantage of drive-up testing. Disabled individuals who depend on a caregiver for regular assistance with daily tasks cannot isolate themselves thoroughly from others. They may rely on others for transportation, shopping or cleaning their homes. Because of physical impairments, they may not be able to wear a face mask or wash their hands frequently.
Communication and getting the information they need is a critical problem.
Some disabled people, particularly in rural areas, may not have access to the internet or popular news sources. But new technologies are combatting social isolation and creating access to services. The shift toward telehealth has made it easier to schedule a medical consultation over the phone or internet for non-urgent care and routine visits, making medical care more accessible for some people with a disability. Churches and other organizations are holding meetings and social events online, allowing more interaction with friends, family and colleagues.
Individuals with vision, hearing or cognitive impairments, however, face unique challenges with web-based technology.
They may not be able to verbalize pain or symptoms or the effects of medication on a telehealth visit. This is especially true for individuals with a developmental or intellectual disability who have difficulty understanding the pandemic and what they need to do to protect themselves. They depend on being physically close to family and caregivers to make daily life manageable and meaningful and virtual interaction is an inadequate substitute.
For disabled individuals who require in-home care or services away from home there is concern about the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
Finding safe and reliable caregivers may be difficult as caregivers are worried about their own health and because of low pay, lack of sufficient personal protective equipment and little or no sick leave may not want to continue to work. A disabled person who needs in-home care risks a disruption of services or may be faced with moving to a nursing home or other group setting, where the risk of infection is even greater. As a result, COVID-19 threatens not only the health of an individual, but their independence as well.
People with disabilities are experiencing the same financial strain as the rest of the population.
One million working-age people with disabilities have lost their jobs and it may be quite a while before they can return to work or find another job. Without income or financial assistance, they may have no way to pay for basic needs like food, shelter and medical care. To alleviate some of this stress, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as “food stamps” is now allowing users to order food for delivery online. Currently 35 states including Texas can order groceries from Amazon or stores like Walmart.
Pandemic related restrictions that directly affect people with disabilities such as closure of specialized facilities and medical centers, transportation and specialized services have highlighted the debate over issues that have affected the disability community for a long time.
These issues and how they are addressed impact us all. Changes are being made daily from where we work to how we socialize with each other to how we educate our children. As we move forward, we need to consider the unique challenges faced by people with disabilities and include them in decisions about the future. They have always had to devise alternate strategies for living and their guidance will be a valuable resource.
Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.
Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach has been practicing law for over 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Roach obtained board certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Lonnie is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit. Highly experienced in Long Term Disability denials and appeals governed by the “ERISA” Mr. Roach is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Austin Bar Association, and is a past the director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association (Director 1999-2005) Mr. Roach and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.
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