The Biden administration announced Thursday that it is taking several steps to make masks and coronavirus testing more accessible to people with disabilities, following criticism from the disability community that the country’s top leaders have been slow to act. to protect the country’s most vulnerable.
Dr. Cameron Webb, senior policy adviser for equity on the White House Covid-19 response team, said the administration has engaged deeply with disability advocates in recent months to create the plan as a sign of their commitment to do better. by them. “We hear you, we see you,” he said.
During the pandemic, people with disabilities have suffered a disproportionate number of deaths and many have not been able to safely return to normal activities. Some children with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions that put them at high risk have had to continue remote learning even when their peers return to class.
People who are blind or have reduced mobility have often forgone Covid-19 tests because they cannot drive to a testing site or cannot carry out tests from home. People with intellectual disabilities have sometimes struggled to understand written advice on Covid-19.
As part of the Biden administration’s new initiative, the Department of Health and Human Services will expand its Disability Information Hotline to help people order tests, understand test instructions, or find alternatives to home testing, officials said.
The administration also plans to improve home testing to make it more accessible and user-friendly, but did not provide details, though it said the National Institutes of Health will consult with communities that need such testing. to help inform the modification and development of new tests and teaching methods.
At the same time, the administration has signaled that it will prioritize purchasing at-home tests from manufacturers that focus on those goals, officials said.
Other measures outlined by the White House include distributing masks to people who cannot leave their homes so they can receive visits from caregivers, giving schools advice on protecting high-risk children in schools and providing Covid-19 advice in alternative formats like Braille, American Sign Language, and plain text that can be understood by people with intellectual disabilities.
Disability advocates praised the plan but expressed disappointment at its limited scope.
Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, said the guidance does not meaningfully address the concerns of high-risk or immunocompromised people, many of whom live in isolation and fear as mask mandates are disappearing. the country. She said many of the steps were the bare minimum and should have been taken months ago.
“I’m glad they try to respond to our requests, but the pity is that there are so few, too late,” she said.
According to her, disabled people’s organizations would like to see the administration undertake more research on Long Covid, more advice on workplace accommodations for people who are immunocompromised or have Long Covid, and increase the supply of treatment.
Tory Cross, an official with health care advocacy organization Be a Hero, said disability advocates also want indoor mask mandates to stay in place, at least until rates go up. vaccination are higher.
“The pandemic will not end until the world is immunized and until people with disabilities, chronic conditions and at high risk can participate in society as fully as people without disabilities,” he said. she stated.
Kimberly Knackstedt, director of disability policy for the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the White House plan was just a first step. She said the administration will continue to work on more initiatives and actions.
“Everyone’s needs are going to be a little different,” she said, adding, “We hope this is a step in the right direction..”