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COVID-19 Updates

Graphic rendering of COVID-19 virus from CDC

COVID-19 – Updates, Resources, & Other Calls to Action

The novel coronavirus, and subsequent COVID-19 pandemic hits home for those of us in the disability community. Many of us are some of the highest-at-risk, and need accurate and up-to-date information on a constantly changing environment.

In the midst of several unprecedented policy initiatives, we are doing everything within our capacity to ensure our issues and concerns are communicated to policy and decision makers.

Tennessee Disability Coalition Update:

In full accordance with local and state social distancing directives, our entire staff is working from home indefinitely. While it’s true our main office in East Nashville sustained considerable damage during the tornadoes on March 3rd, we are proud to say our infrastructure is fully operational, and we continue to be committed to the individuals and organizations of the Tennessee disability community. For the time being, we ask that you send hardcopy mail to our temporary post office box: P.O. Box 90145, Nashville, TN 37209

CARES Act Stimulus Re: Veterans, Low Income Seniors & People with Disabilities

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the ‘‘CARES Act” is designed to help our nation during the COVID-19 crisis. As many of you may know, the CARES Act includes funding for direct stimulus payments to qualifying Americans. 

These payments are to be paid via direct deposit or paper checks, with income verification based on previous tax returns. Which, is understandable, if you are like the majority of Americans that file taxes every year. 

But over three million Veterans and Social Supplemental Income (SSI) recipients simply do not meet the federal minimum income requirement to necessitate filing taxes. The government does not require them to do so, and moreover – tax filing is an added and unnecessary expense for individuals with cost-restrictive incomes. 

A more in-depth analysis and links to advocacy can be found here:


Education Update:

March 30th, 2020: There has been some confusion around implications for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) with the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the ‘‘CARES Act” passed on March 26th. We have gathered information from several partners, including the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Education Week. 

Education Provisions in the CARES Act

The CARES Act allows the Secretary of Education to waive provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Specifically, states can apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive federal requirements under ESSA such as the requirement to administer state assessments, provide educator training in person, and the limits on funding spent on technology for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Institutions of higher education also have increased flexibility to provide education virtually.  

Regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the bill does not provide waiver authority to the Secretary of Education, but does require the Education Department to submit a report to Congress within 30 days indicating which waivers may be needed to help states and districts comply with IDEA. 

A more in-depth analysis and links to advocacy can be found here:


Tennessee’s Discriminatory Guidance Re: Access to Healthcare During an Emergency

March 27th, 2020: On March 27th, the Tennessee Disability Coalition, alongside Disability Rights TN, and 20+ other individuals and organizations submitted a formal complaint to Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Civil Rights in Washington, DC. The complaint concerned Tennessee’s guidance for rationing scare resources during a public health emergency like the one we are currently experiencing. The 2016 guidance was in clear violation of Section 504 and Section 1557, specifically providing “guidance” that excludes people with “advanced neuromuscular disease” who require “assistance with activities of daily living or requiring chronic ventilatory support,” from accessing critical care, including ventilators.

Similar complaints were filed from disability rights groups in Alabama, Kansas, and Washington.

On March 28th, Roger Severino, Director, Office of Civil Rights at HHS released a bulletin saying “HHS is committed to leaving no one behind during an emergency, and this guidance is designed to help health care providers meet that goal.” “Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, or needing religious accommodations should not be put at the end of the line for health services during emergencies. Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism,” Severino added.

Similar complaints have been filed against other states for their triage plans. In Alabama, the Office for Civil Rights at HHS found the state’s guidance — which includes similar criteria to Tennessee’s, including for moderate to severe dementia — was found to be in violation of federal law. The office ordered Alabama to remove the guidance from its Department of Health website and abide by a new Crisis Standards of Care report released earlier this year.

A full copy of the HHS OCR bulletin can be found here: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/28/ocr-issues-bulletin-on-civil-rights-laws-and-hipaa-flexibilities-that-apply-during-the-covid-19-emergency.html

For Tennessee’s part, Governor Lee’s spokesperson responded to the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 7th saying, "This was guidance that was put together by the previous administration — and it's just that. It is not enforceable. It does not carry the weight of law. This is simply basically what a task force said and provided guidance for hospitals to develop their own plans around that. So it's up to the hospitals. You can take those recommendations or not. That's really up to the hospitals."

Full Chattanooga Times Free Press coverage can be found here: https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/apr/07/gov-lee-disavows-controversial-medical-guidance/520110/

Mayor & Municipality Guidance:

March 20th, 2020: For Tennessee’s ten largest cities, we drafted and submitted guidance to the mayors and their respective municipalities and ADA coordinators in regard to fair and equal access to coronavirus/COVID-19 testing and treatment. To summarize, the guidance provided clear language about issues relevant to our community and included, but was not limited to: guidance about access to effective communication, invisible disabilities, scarce resources such as DSP’s and transportation, and much more.

This guidance was sent to the respective mayors and ADA coordinators in:

  • Chattanooga
  • Clarksville
  • Franklin
  • Jackson
  • Johnson City
  • Knoxville
  • Memphis
  • Murfreesboro
  • Nashville
  • Shelby County

To see the full guidance, please click here.

Additional Resources:

From the TDC: 

No one can deny emergency health care just because of a disability. We developed a one-page document affirming these rights: “Your Rights to Healthcare Under the Law- COVID-19.”

PDF file format: https://www.tndisability.org/sites/default/files/TN_KnowYourRights.pdf

Text-only file format: https://www.tndisability.org/sites/default/files/TN_KnowYourRights.txt

From the Southeast ADA Center: 


From Federal and State Government: