How COVID-19 is Disproportionately Affected People with Disabilities and Differences

Independent Living

Most people who identify as disabled or differently abled know that members of our community tend to be disproportionately affected by societal upheaval like extreme weather and armed conflicts. Now, as our world faces an unprecedented challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic, people with disabilities are feeling the effects of the disease in ways that the able population probably can’t even imagine.

 For instance, did you know that medical supply shortages are affecting not just people who are ill with COVID-19, but also the many chronically ill and disabled people who rely on medical equipment simply to live their daily lives? Our friends at Disability Scoop recently reported that the families of children who require ventilators on a daily basis are being told to reuse ventilator circuits, the tubes which connect one’s body to the machine. Families that usually receive four ventilator circuits a month from their medical supply companies are now receiving only one a month, and being asked to reuse them. According to medical experts, however, doing so is risky, since reusing the circuits could allow bacteria to grow inside them, which could threaten the user’s health. Medical supply companies are also frustrated: they want to give their clients the tools they need to stay safe and healthy, but they simply don’t have enough for all who need them, since hospitals are now buying ventilator supplies in record numbers. So it’s not just that our nation is facing a critical shortage of ventilators themselves, and medical professionals trained to use them, but also the accessory supplies which are required to run them, like the plastic circuit tubes which are being rationed.

Furthermore, increasing numbers of patients with critical cases of COVID-19 are now suffering from kidney failure. As ABC news recently reported, this means that as more and more of these patients are put on dialysis, the U.S. is likely to experience a similar shortage of dialysis machines and supplies. What will happen to the chronically ill people who already rely on dialysis to stay healthy?

It’s not that people with disabilities necessarily have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. In some cases they do, but not in all situations. The more pressing issue is that the needs and rights of people with disabilities are often forgotten. During times of national crisis, we know that this is especially likely to happen. In the coming weeks and months, we must work to ensure that this doesn't happen.

People with disabilities and differences face challenges that many can only imagine every day. We are an incredibly resourceful and talented community. How are we going to use those skills to advocate for one another during this difficult time?

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