People who have a disability make up 11% of Illinois’ population, according to data from the Chicago Community Trust. And many of them are seniors and African Americans, two groups acutely affected by the coronavirus.
Disability activist Michael Grice has used a wheelchair to get around since he was in a traffic crash as a young man. But he says that shouldn’t limit him. He’s committed to living independently, and advocating for everyone with a disability to have the same right.
“I want to be a productive citizen in society,” Grice said. “I’ve lived in a series of nursing homes and when you live in a nursing home, all of your dignity, your choices are taken away. … But now I make my own choices.”
Grice lives on his own in a Buena Park apartment, and gets help with his daily chores.
“I have several personal care assistants that come in and help me shower, dress, cook, clean my apartment, and they do grocery shopping,” Grice said.
Having those assistants in his home each day means social distancing isn’t an option, and not following those guidelines is an inherent health risk. Despite that, Grice says his biggest concern right now is for people living in group settings, like he was once forced to.
“I’m really disappointed that the mayor didn’t take one of the hotels and say that people in institutions could live in the hotel until this situation is over,” Grice said. “Right now, people with disabilities are dying in nursing homes with this virus. They’re dying every single day.”
While Grice says the city and state have made big strides in services for people with disabilities, he thinks it’s still not enough.
“There is a serious lack of housing for people with disabilities and seniors,” Grice said. “We have a lot of vacant buildings that could be adapted for people with disabilities and seniors all over the city.”
Grice is an advocate with the disability nonprofit Access Living. He was also the group’s first consumer. Access Living recently organized a push to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in emergency health care settings, and last Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued guidance to that effect.
“We’re at the bottom of the list when it comes to housing, transportation, health care. We really have to fight for those services,” Grice said.
And in the time of COVID-19, Grice says that’s a fight for people’s lives.