The Biden administration announced on Thursday it was taking several steps to make masks and coronavirus tests more accessible to people with disabilities, following criticism from the disability community that the country’s top leadership has been slow to act to protect the country’s most vulnerable.
Dr. Cameron Webb is the White House Covid-19 Response Team’s senior policy advisor for equity. He said that the administration had been deeply involved with advocates for the disabled over the past months to create the plan, as a sign of its determination to do better for them. “We hear you, we see you,” he said.
People with disabilities have experienced a high rate of deaths, and many have been unable or unwilling to return to their daily activities. Some children with compromised immune systems and other medical issues have had to learn remotely even though their peers return from class.
Blind people and those with limited mobility are often unable to drive to the testing site or perform at-home testing. People with intellectual disabilities sometimes have difficulty understanding written Covid-19 guidance.
As part of the Biden administration’s new initiative, the Department of Health and Human Services will be expanding its disability information hotline to help people with ordering tests, understanding test instructions or finding alternatives to at-home testing, officials said.
The administration also plans on improving at-home tests to make these more accessible and user-friendly. However, it did not give specifics. However, it did state that the National Institutes of Health would consult with communities in the need of those tests to inform the development and modification of new tests and instructional modes.
Officials also stated that the administration indicated that it will prioritise buying at-home tests from manufacturers who focus on these goals.
The White House also suggested other measures, including distributing masks to those who are unable to leave their homes, giving guidance to schools on how to protect high-risk students in schools, and providing Covid-19 guidance for alternative formats such as Braille, American Sign Language, and simplified text that can easily be understood by people with intellectual disabilities.
The plan was praised by disability advocates, but they were disappointed at its limited scope.
Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, said that the guidance doesn’t meaningfully address concerns of high-risk or immunocompromised people, many of whom are living in isolation and fear as mask mandates disappear around the country. She said that many of these steps were too minimal and should have been taken months earlier.
“I’m glad that they’re trying to react to our demands, but the unfortunate thing is some of it is just so little, too late,” she said.
Additional steps she stated disability organizations would like to see are more research on Long Covid and more guidance on workplace accommodations to people who are immunocompromised/have long Covid.
Tory Cross, a representative of Be a Hero, stated that disability advocates want indoor mask mandates to remain in place until the rates of vaccinations are higher.
“The pandemic will not end until the world is vaccinated and until disabled, chronically ill, and high-risk people are able to participate in society as fully as those without disabilities,” she said.
Kimberly Knackstedt is the White House’s director of disability policy. She said that the White House plan was just a first step. She said that the administration would continue to work on new initiatives and actions.
“Everyone’s needs are going to be a little bit different,” she said, adding, “We do hope that this is a step in the right direction.”
Source: NY Times