Despite the social-distancing measures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people with disabilities, older adults who have lost the ability to drive, and other vulnerable populations still need access to life-sustaining rides (dialysis and cancer treatments, among others) as well as life-sustaining deliveries (groceries, meals & pharmacy prescriptions).
Human service agencies are either moving to remotely provide necessary medical, health and rehabilitative services or suspending them to prevent the spread of the virus. To ensure continuity of services wherever possible, mobility managers can help virtually convene stakeholders to take actions that expand access to transportation for people with disabilities that help them maintain health and wellness during this crisis.
Disability and COVID-19: Feeling ‘left behind’ and threats to independence for people with disabilities
It is important to understand that people with disabilities experience increased risk of contracting COVID-19, either due to underlying health conditions associated with their disability or the difficulty practicing social distancing due to required care or other supports. Some people with disabilities depend on regular help and support from external caregivers to maintain their independence — that is, their ability to live in their own homes rather than in nursing homes, group homes, and other institutional settings. Outbreaks of communicable disease like COVID-19 can disrupt these services. Aides and caregivers can become sick themselves, or the risk of catching or spreading illness may require aides and caregivers to stay home, interrupting services.
Some may have difficulties in implementing basic hygiene measures to keep the virus at bay. These difficulties include cleaning their homes and washing their hands frequently due to physical impairments, environmental barriers, or interrupted services.
What’s more, some people with chronic health conditions worry that they won’t be able to get the extra supplies of medications that are being recommended to the general public. Depending on the medications, and what kind of health insurance a person has, just getting regular refills in a timely manner can be a challenge, even when there isn’t a public health crisis.
The important thing to remember is that the risks of COVID-19 for people with disabilities can take many forms. The greater risks may not be from actual disease, but from the disruptions in services and routines it can cause, as evidenced by the letter written by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to the DOT Secretary regarding transportation access and safety for people with disabilities during and after COVID-19 This underscores the necessity of mobility managers to ensure that individuals with disabilities have a continuity of supports.
Incorporating the Needs of People with Disabilities in Transportation Responses to COVID-19
Through understanding these supports and working with partners in the public health and disability services sector, mobility managers can support individuals with disabilities by:
- Contacting local public health officials and include their voice in discussions about service needs to appropriately issue useful guidance;
- Working with partners to educate riders and their caregivers about the risk of traveling for themselves and others. The Administration for Community Living has compiled a list of resources specifically for older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers;
- Work with local centers of independent living and aging and disability resource centers to discuss educating their client populations about the risks of trips during this time.
- Establishing clear, client-facing protocols that screen all trips for urgency and offer suggestions about trip priority requirements. For example, Chatham Area Transit asked customers to abstain from using transit by communicating criteria on their website and establishing a dedicated phone line for paratransit customers;
- Encourage that drivers and volunteers thoroughly disinfect vehicles before and after the ride;
- Identifying accessible transportation solutions when traditional fixed route service may not be available;
- Communicating with transit providers about the availability of informational resources regarding small business administration funding support;
- Helping to identify temporary operators – many places have senior volunteer programs with drivers who are senior citizens. They are not driving – in Ohio, they are exploring using furloughed school bus drivers who are out of work to operate transit vehicles;
- Exploring the possibility of using unused vehicles in their communities to deliver meals to individuals with disabilities or deliver other pharmacy or medical equipment;
- Convening with human service agencies in their communities to identify challenges and needs and establish a technical assistance protocol to response to needs expediently; and
- Work with their State DOTs to ensure that diverse audiences have current and accurate information about the scope of transportation service available and any emergent issues.