As we approach the third year of the pandemic, people with disabilities and advocates say health care systems and the government still have not been able to provide adequate COVID-19 care.
While people with disabilities are at high risk, a report from the National Council on Disability finds they haven’t been prioritized for vaccines in some states.
In addition, advocates say the stress from COVID-19 has exacerbated issues in health care that existed before the pandemic — like a shortage of direct care workers.
Kristin Berg, an associate professor in the department of disability and human development at the University of Illinois Chicago, said one of her students is struggling with finding a direct care worker. She relies on the worker to participate in school and live independently, yet with the lack of workers, Berg said the student is wondering every day if she’ll end up in a nursing home.
“I know lots of kids who are on extensive waitlists to access needed mental health care, behavioral health care and with no end in sight — they’re ending up in the emergency room,” Berg said. “Our system is failing kids with disabilities if they’re ending up in the emergency room.”
In regard to testing, there’s a lack of access to transportation to sites, said Andrés Gallegos, chairman of the National Council on Disability and a board member of Access Living. Ride sharing services are not accessible for people with disabilities, he said. And riding public transit puts people at a greater risk, as riders don’t know if they’re surrounded by vaccinated people or not, he said.
Gallegos said people with disabilities shouldn’t be looked at as a condition or a disease, but as a patient population. He said people with disabilities are not viewed as any cohesive group of any public health surveillance programs, which could affect how funding or policies are allocated and shaped.
“What we’ve seen is not unlike what we’ve seen prior to the pandemic where people with disabilities are discriminated against in the health care system,” Gallegos said. “A healthcare system that has not addressed the need and has not been welcoming for people with disabilities in this country.”