What Can People with Disabilities Do to Safeguard against the Pandemic?
Although the COVID-19 pandemic presents many unique challenges for individuals with disabilities there are many things people have been doing to safeguard against the pandemic. For example, people with mobility equipment have been taking extra measures to wash down their equipment such as rims on wheelchairs, walkers, or crutches. Many people have also had to adjust how they carry out some daily activities, utilizing their creative thinking and adaption skills to figure out new obstacles. For example, if you are blind or have low vision, you may touch more surfaces during your daily routine than others. If possible, you might want to think about wearing gloves when going out in public.
Be your own advocate
Beyond taking precautions and adapting more in daily life, advocacy is a big part of keeping yourself safe. Everybody should be social distancing, but people with disabilities who have medical conditions may have to advocate more strongly if they live with weakened immune systems. You might have to educate others about why you need to take social distancing seriously, perhaps more so than some of your non-disabled friends or family. Advocate for yourself by explaining your concerns to other people. Ask people in your life to respect your decisions, and don’t feel guilty about it – because your health and safety should be your first priority.
Stocking up on essential medical supplies and medications has also been very important for people with disabilities during the pandemic. Despite starting to see progress with a vaccine available for frontline workers, it’s really important to take stock of the things that you need to stay healthy because it continues to be challenging for many people to access necessary medical supplies or medications due to shortages of resources, insurance company policies, and shipment delays. It’s important to continue assessing what supplies and medications you have, how long they will last, and to plan ahead for reorders and refills. In some cases, you may want to advocate for a 90-day refill instead of a monthly refill. Be prepared for longer shipping times, given the national increase in online orders and deliveries.
Advocacy is critical for people with disabilities, especially during a time like this. Several national disability groups are advocating against care rationing policies that deny or limit COVID-19 care for people with disabilities. We must remember how critical advocacy is for maintaining the rights and equal opportunities for individuals affected by disabilities. Thankfully, the numbers of COVID-19 cases have been decreasing and many feel optimistic with a vaccine plan in place. But hospital systems and supply companies are still going to be playing catch-up for quite some time – making continued advocacy more important than ever.
Planning is your friend
Perhaps the most important thing to safeguard against the pandemic is to plan accordingly. Consider all of the different ways that your life has been affected this past year. What has been the most helpful way you have adapted? What are the lessons you can take away from this past year? How have you maintained your resiliency and perseverance? Think about the specific instances that have been helpful for you and continue to use the adaptive methods you have employed successfully. For example, if you are deaf or hard of hearing, it may be more challenging to communicate with people who are wearing masks over their faces. Planning for alternative communication methods may be necessary. Or, if you rely on personal care assistants to help you with activities of daily living, it may be a good idea to limit the number of caregivers you come into contact with, if possible – or establish clear expectations for all of your staff to follow, such as taking temperatures upon entering your home, wearing masks, and extra sanitizing of everything they touch. Hopefully you have arty been doing some of these things – but it is important to continue practicing these adaptive skills, because the pandemic is not over yet.
Lauren Presutti, founder of River Oaks Psychology, is a licensed psychotherapist, disability activist, speaker, educator, and community leader. Diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at age two, Lauren has been using a power wheelchair since she was five years old. Her firsthand experiences revealed that traditional mental health professionals rarely have a lifetime of knowledge and experience to work effectively and truly connect deeply with those affected by medical conditions, chronic illnesses, and disabilities. Lauren’s training and knowledge of empowerment, inclusion, resiliency, mental health, ableism, disability, and related topics have motivated her to become a global change agent.