The rights of people with disabilities to accessible programs and services remain and cannot be waived during a pandemic. This means that people with disabilities have both physical and programmatic access to services in health care, employment, state and local government, businesses, transportation, and voting. The ways for this to be done include:
- Reasonable Modifications of Policies, Practices, and Procedures – This means making changes to policies, practices, and procedures, as necessary, in order to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.
- Effective Communication --This means making sure that communication is easily understood, no matter what form that communication takes.
- Accessible Facilities --This means making sure people can get into and around the built environment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CED) have said that disability, by itself, may not necessarily put people with disabilities at higher risk for getting COVID-19 or having severe illness. Everyone is at higher risk if there is an underlying medication condition such as chronic lung disease, a serious heart condition, or a weakened immune system. However, adults with disabilities are three times more likely than adults without disabilities to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities, which then puts them at high risk.
The Southeast ADA Center (SEADA), a project of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and a member of the ADA National Network, has developed a dynamic Disability and COVID-19 Portal
- Explore the Portal through Alerts, Fast Facts, Virtual Events, and over 250 Resources from known national, federal, state, and organizational sources. Some information is available in Spanish, and American Sign Language.
- Share Your Story of how COVID-19 has changed your life: write an essay, create a poem or send your art, photo, audio, or video that shows the impact of the pandemic.
A recent article in Forbes Magazine discussed ways in which the pandemic may change disability policies and practices including:
- a wider acceptance of doing business online, “from home.”
- a new urgency to the trend away from congregate care.
- more attention to disability issues ... or less?
The ADA requires public entities (state and local governments) and private entities (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) to provide auxiliary aids and services to make sure that individuals with speech, hearing and vision disabilities can understand what is said or written and can communicate effectively. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with disabilities is as effective as communication with people without disabilities. Effective communication rules also apply to companions (such as family members or friends) who have disabilities.
For example, this means that
- press conferences have a sign language interpreter or video remote interpreter who is visible on the screen with the speaker
- materials are available in alternate formats such as large print or Braille
- telehealth services are delivered with a qualified interpreter
- online educational services include captioning and descriptive video
- an accessible van can get into drive-thru medical sites
Health care organizations run either by state and local governments or that provide services to the public are covered by the ADA. This includes, but is not limited to, public and private doctor’s offices, hospitals, dentists’ offices, etc.
For example, this means that people with disabilities can:
- get medical care (like a ventilator)
- bring a service animal with you most of the time
- get the kind of communication you need-e.g., American Sign Language interpreting, communication access real-time translation (CART), Braille, information in simple words
- have documents read to you
Health Care Links:
- Your Rights To Healthcare Under the Law -- PDF file format and text-only file format
- Health Care and the Americans With Disabilities Act
- COVID19, Health Care & the ADA webinar
- Accessibility at Drive-Thru Medical Sites
- COVID-19: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communication Access Recommendations for the Hospital
- Supporting Communication with Patients who have COVID-19 -- Includes downloadable health care communication boards to support patients of different ages, abilities, and languages
- Podcast & Resources: ADA Live! Episode 80: Rationing of Medical Care and Protecting the Rights of People with Disabilities Episode 79 (3-part series): Protecting Your Mental Health during the Coronavirus Outbreak
There is a wide variety of COVID-19-related workplace issues complicated by federal workplace laws and recent public health and safety guidelines issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accommodating individuals with disabilities under the ADA during the pandemic raises many questions, including:
- accommodating individuals with disabilities who are at higher risk for developing complications from the coronavirus
- strategies for limiting the risk of exposure to the coronavirus in the workplac,
- working at home
- accessing leave
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) document What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws expands on a previous publication and adds questions-and-answers on testing, medical exams, and essential workers.
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability. JAN’s document Engaging in the Interactive Process During the COVID-19 Pandemic addresses key issues.
Voting is a fundamental right and responsibility of citizenship. The pandemic is having a significant impact on our election infrastructure because of the postponement of elections and changes in rules regarding mail-in absentee voting, online voter registration, and polling places to accommodate federal guidelines around social distancing. The CARES Act includes $400 million in emergency funds for states to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 federal election cycle. States will need to act quickly in order to protect voters and election workers while at the same time ensuring secure and accessible elections.
- Voting Rights Coalition Letter: Protect Voting Rights and Public Safety in Response to COVID-19
- How to Protect the 2020 Vote from the Coronavirus
- COVID-19 & Policy Options for Expanding Mail-in Ballots
- Federal Lawsuit Challenging Alabama’s Lack of Safe and Accessible Voting During COVID-19 Pandemic
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recently updated the civil rights section of their information page on transportation and COVID-19 to include answers to frequently asked questions about the accommodation of people with disabilities using either fixed route or paratransit services.