The Pandemic Has Been Hard on People with Disabilities
It’s not just you and me, the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on people with disabilities according to research published recently in the Disability and Health Journal.
Unmet needs during public health emergencies
“New Obstacles and Widening Gaps: A Qualitative Study of the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on U.S. Adults with Disabilities” highlights the challenges experienced by many people as a result of the pandemic.
Previous studies have found that the needs of people with disabilities have often not been met during public health emergencies, so the researchers felt the need to study the impacts during the current pandemic.
They recruited 38 adults who self-identified as having a disability and conducted virtual focus groups for six disability-related sub-groups: vision, hearing, mobility and physical, mental health, cognitive, intellectual and developmental, and chronic illness. The researchers then reviewed for major themes brought up across these discussions.1
How were people with disabilities impacted?
Three major themes were identified across the focus group discussions:1
- New problems from the pandemic
- Daily life challenges worsened by the pandemic
- Broader changes to accessibility and disability identity
Challenges with regular medical care
Sub-themes were also identified, such as challenges with COVID-19 testing and challenges getting regular medical care.1
Some groups also noted problems getting direct care (personal care assistance) and experiences with medical rationing (being denied or de-prioritized for care due to the public health emergency).1
A need for inclusive public health planning
The researchers concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unequal (and greater) impact on people with disabilities. They also say that the study's participants argued that to better address their needs, disability perspectives should be included in public health planning:1
This study explored how the COVID-19 pandemic is uniquely affecting adults with disabilities in the U.S. These findings show how the pandemic has both created new challenges and exacerbated existing inequities for the disability community.
Participants identified disability-specific obstacles to receiving COVID-19 testing, gaining information about the pandemic, and executing virus prevention strategies. Additionally, the participants’ daily access needs were made more difficult by COVID-19.
This study demonstrates that to fully address these issues, disabled people’s needs must be considered in the pandemic response, and all public health policies and response strategies must be designed in partnership with the disability community.”
My COVID-19 pandemic challenges
As a person living with rheumatoid arthritis plus other chronic conditions and resulting disabilities, I identified with the results from this study.
I experienced challenges getting to a COVID test when I needed one, getting treatment when I was sick, and also managing my health conditions during now more than a year of pandemic precautions.
Trying my best to maintain
Although I had access to telehealth options, I still needed to make in-person appointments for physical exams and then physical therapies (for my ankle and later my arm and hands). It was challenging to try to maintain my RA during lockdowns and other precautions.
It was also crucial to keep as safe as possible from virus exposure (despite having recovered from COVID-19) due to the nature of my weak immune response.
Balancing these many challenges has been next to impossible and I just had to make the best decisions possible at the various moments when they occurred.
Added accesibility challenges
Perhaps even more frustrating has been the added accessibility challenges that have been piled on in the pandemic.
For example, while I need to wear a mask to stay safe and keep others safe, I cannot put it on myself. I have needed more personal physical assistance with these types of precautions.
Also, accessibility has often gone out with our society forgetting that it still needs to exist. One example is my ongoing struggle to access the pool for my physical therapy.
Advocate for restoring accessibility
It feels that many aspects of daily life have grown more inaccessible due to the pandemic and the decreasing presence of people with disabilities in the community because we are trying to stay safe.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of work lies ahead for people with chronic conditions and disabilities to advocate for restoring accessibility, for incorporating our needs back into medical care and public health, and for pushing for more improvements against the declines we have experienced during the pandemic.
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