Appearances are often deceiving” – Aesop.
36.8% of the United States total population has at least one dose of the vaccine and 22.7% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC as of 6 a.m. on April 13.
As individual states throughout the US are slowly opening access to vaccinations to ALL eligible adults, we celebrate this milestone for access to this lifesaving therapy that has taken 563,000 American lives and infected more than 30 million in our country alone.
As we celebrate access to the vaccine for our population, what about accessibility for persons with disabilities? These numbers disproportionately include people without disabilities versus those with disabilities. Yes, if a state opens up access to anyone, this also includes PWD, but it is not as easy as sitting down in a chair and rolling up your sleeve.
PWD have been disproportionately affected by this virus and has not been prioritized in terms of vaccine distribution or accessibility. This subset of the American population are 2-3 times more likely to die from the coronavirus and although it is notable we are opening up the vaccination to the masses, we need to focus on supporting all to get to the chair for the inoculation. States have been mandated by CDC’s vaccination distribution policy, but the list of high risk candidates is vague and doesn’t consider the unique hardships for this group.
The CDC has widely promoted individuals to “wear a mask”, stay 6 feet apart, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated. These efforts are protecting many, but consider this. Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can’t read lips with masks on. People that are blind may find it difficult to socially distance. Individuals with anxiety, depression, or other invisible disorders are finding the seclusion and isolation exponentially difficult and complicating existing depression or therapy. These are just a few examples of how PWDs are not being considered throughout the pandemic and vaccination distribution.
Want another example? I have one and it’s personal. The State of Massachusetts website created to help individuals access the vaccine proved to be incredibly inaccessible and there were no other alternative sign-up options provided when it was my turn to be vaccinated in the past few weeks. From my experience over the past month, not a single person who attempted to navigate the state’s website was fast enough to click on the refresh button to find an open site for a vaccination and ultimately confirm my seat so I could proudly roll up my sleeve.
I challenge governments, hospital systems, frontline workers, and numerous others to give everyone equal access to opportunities and do it from day one. Consider people with disabilities from the planning process and not as an afterthought. Inclusion for all is a value for all. The vaccination distribution is no different.
I am proud that I just received my second dose of the vaccination and my home state of Massachusetts is set to open phase 3 of eligibility to all individuals 16+ on April 19. We must start PRIORITIZING inclusion and being curious through a lens of compassion. It is the ONLY way to efficiently and effectively improve EVERYONE’S quality of life. There have been improvements in the past few weeks, but let’s strive to include all from day one.
Ready to find your vaccine? Visit https://vaccinefinder.org/search/ or your state’s health department website at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/reporting/vaccinefinder/about.html