- by Andy Rausch and Joe Reinecker
These are challenging times for everyone. However, the coronavirus and how it's dealt with can cause unique challenges for those of us within the disability community. With this in mind, Matthew Dietz, a lawyer for the Disability Independence Group, has pinpointed a number of these challenges, as well as how you might approach them. As Dietz recently wrote, “There have been several stories regarding states rationing health care and denying people with disabilities needed medical treatment. While this is of utmost importance, most discrimination during this time will be as a result of inadequate planning without thought about the needs of persons with disabilities.”
With this in mind, we reached out to him to discuss this further. We asked him for some examples. “One example here where I am, in some areas, has been the testing areas,” he explains. “In order to get tested, you have to go to a centralized location and then wait in your car for a number of hours to be tested. The structure of that doesn't consider person with disabilities at all. Especially those who cannot get to these areas or who do not have the ability to drive. They are excluding a whole group of people just because of the way they structure the environment itself.”
Dietz says denial of programs and services has been a problem as well. In many areas, paratransit has been shut down, denying many people with disabilities the means to go out and buy essentials like food, healthcare, and medicine. “If paratransit drivers don't show up, or are afraid to show up, then many of the same programs and services that are available to folks that have their own vehicles or could get on public transportation would not be available to those who can't,” he says. “Here in Miami, where I am, the only service they are focusing on now for transportation is if you have a mandatory appointment that you can't miss, such as chemotherapy or dialysis. Other than those things, you really don't have access to paratransit.”
Dietz believes these oversights are the result of a lack of planning, as well as a lack of consideration regarding the limitations of people with disabilities. “That's most of it,” he says. “But then, when you bring it to their attention and they still don't do anything to address that, generally blaming it on a lack of resources, it's just an outward way to discriminate, essentially saying, 'You're just not worth it for us to put our resources into this.'”
If you are faced with one of the above situations, it is important to complain and ask for accommodations. If a public entity has structured things in a way that you cannot access their services, you can contact an ADA coordinator or a service coordinator at SKIL for assistance. Be safe out there, but stand up for your rights. If you need essentials to survive and the system is structured so that you (because of a disability) cannot access it, you must speak up.