Disability rights advocate and wheelchair user Ryan Honick relies on public transit or rideshare options to get to appointments and go grocery shopping in Washington, D.C. Since he started social distancing, he can no longer use those options so Honick turned to the delivery service Instacart to obtain supplies.
“It’s usually a couple hours from when you place your order,” Honick said of his previous Instacart deliveries. But the service wasn’t nearly as quick when he placed an order on March 12. “The wait time was a week,” he said.
For most people, this extended wait time would be merely an inconvenience, but for those with disabilities — especially those whose support systems have been decimated by the coronavirus — it can mean the difference between sustenance and starving.
As COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide at an alarming rate, politicians are scrambling to put together contingency plans. One noticeable absence is any sort of acknowledgment of the disabled community.
Around 1 in 4 Americans have a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are a diverse group of people with diverse needs. Not all are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, but specific conditions may leave many of them more vulnerable. In addition, among those who have a greater need for assistance in their everyday lives, social distancing and self-isolation is even harder, maybe impossible.
There has been a lack of information about what people with disabilities and those who care for them should be doing, compounded by a failure to communicate important public health messages in an accessible way.
That people with disabilities are unable to access what they need during this crisis reveals a “systemic failure,” said Andrew Meyers, project director of the Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities at the University of Montana.
Many in the disability community have been deeply disappointed with the government response. “ANCOR is working to lobby hard for additional resources, supplies and flexibility from government at both the state and federal levels,” McCracken said.
One of ANCOR’s goals is to ensure that in states that have shut down large swaths of the workforce, all of those who work with disabled clients are still able to do their jobs.
“Many states issuing stay-home or shelter-in-place orders aren’t including direct support professionals as ‘essential workers,’ despite how essential they truly are,” McCracken said.
While some health aides and personal care attendants are typically considered essential, direct support professionals — those who work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them stay as independent as possible by, for example, helping them to eat, dress and wash themselves — are not.
As the country scrambles to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, the disabled community is getting left out of the conversation.