How Has COVID-19 Affected People with Disabilities?

We know that COVID-19 can impact anyone. But some people are more likely to be infected based on their jobs, living situations, and health conditions.

One of those groups is people with disabilities.

People with disabilities are highly impacted by COVID-19. Latinos with disabilities are at even higher of a risk.

Advocates are asking state health departments to prioritize people with disabilities to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but most states are keeping the initial phases to people over 65, regardless of chronic illness.

How are people with disabilities affected by COVID-19 and how can we advocate for equity?

How are People with Disabilities Impacted During COVID-19?

One way that people with disabilities are impacted by COVID-19 is through potential exposure from home care assistance or even the loss of home care.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities often require critical in-person care or support in their homes, says John N. Constantino, co-director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, according to DisabilityScoop.

People with disabilities affected by COVID

“Many people with developmental disabilities have lost access to caregivers and service providers and these supports may not return given the financial toll of the pandemic on agencies and state budgets, the experts say,” reports Michelle Diament of DisabilityScoop.

If people with disabilities do have access to caregivers and in-person health support, that may be a risk for spreading COVID-19.

For some people with disabilities or chronic diseases, COVID-19 may result in more severe illness.

“All people seem to be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 if they have serious underlying chronic medical conditions like chronic lung disease, a serious heart condition, or a weakened immune system. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely than adults without disabilities to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities,” according to the CDC.

Accessing treatment for COVID-19 can also be difficult for people with disabilities.

“The pandemic has amplified hurdles related to transportation and the accrual of timely appointments and has raised serious ethical issues surrounding the allocation of treatment resources that are constrained or at risk during the pandemic,” according to research published by Dr. John Constantino of Washington University School of Medicine in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

In addition to dealing with the extra burden of treatment and transportation, people with disabilities are often left isolated and struggle with mental health issues compared to people without disabilities.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities were disproportionately isolated prior to the pandemic, and intensification of that isolation stands only to weaken the community for all citizens,” according to Constantino’s research.

That’s why advocates hope that people with disabilities will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in one of the early vaccination phases.

Are People with Disabilities Eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine Yet?

It depends on the state, but for the most part, no.

As of early February, most states are working on vaccinating people in the CDC-recommended phases 1a and 1b. These phases include healthcare personnel, elderly patients in long-term care facilities, frontline essential workers, and adults over the age of 75.

A few states are beginning to vaccinate people in phase 1c, which includes people ages 65 and up and people ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.

While many people with disabilities would fall under the 1c phase, some states like California are opting to forgo the recommended CDC distribution guidelines.

“California recently announced that eligibility for the vaccine will only be determined by age, eliminating the chance for people under 65 with disabilities or chronic illnesses to get the vaccine until the summer,” writes Andrew Pulrang for Forbes.

By restricting vaccine access to age groups, younger people with disabilities who are likely to face more severe illness from COVID-19 won’t be able to get a vaccine for months, advocates say.

“In a January 28 press conference, Andy Imparato, Executive Director of Disability Rights California, explained that based on current rates of vaccine production, going strictly by age will mean disabled and chronically ill people won’t have access until June,” according to Pulrang.

How are Latinos with Disabilities Affected During COVID-19?

Mitigating COVID-19 can be especially difficult for Latinos with disabilities, who face discrimination and a higher risk of exposure.

Val Vera writes that even before COVID-19, the disparities that Latinos with disabilities encounter are difficult to manage.

“The combined effects of being marginalized through ableism and racism, as a Disabled Latinx, can weigh heavily. Individuals who identify as members of these two communities face discrimination on a daily level. Lack of access to businesses and services, employment and housing discrimination, prejudice and racism are regular sources of injustice,” said Vera, according to Latino Rebels.

Research shows that Latinas with disabilities may struggle more than white women with disabilities.

“Latinas with disabilities report greater levels of disablement than Non-Hispanic, White women with disabilities. Over the life course, Latinas experience increased numbers of functional limitations, more difficulties with activities of daily living, and more unemployment due to impairments,” according to researcher Tracie Harrison.

That’s why advocating for equity among Latinos and all people with disabilities is important.

How Can We Advocate for People with Disabilities During COVID-19?

People with disabilities are more likely to suffer severe illness from COVID-19, difficulties accessing treatment and support, and mental health issues during the pandemic.

We can do our part to advocate for people with disabilities to have greater, more equitable access to support.

RespectAbility is organizing a take action campaign to ask states like California to prioritize vaccines for people with disabilities. You can submit a comment and help spread the word about their campaign.

You can also advocate for your neighbors by downloading a Health Equity Report Card.

The report card allows you to see what access your community has to food, healthcare, education, and other resources. You can help advocate for people with chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease by presenting the Health Equity Report Card to your city’s leadership!


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