Disabled People Handling COVID-19

Disabled People Handling COVID-19

Carter Landeros, Writer

 rusbank.netCOVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning about it and who is more likely to become severely ill. Most people with disabilities are not more likely to become infected with or have severe illness from COVID-19. However, some people with disabilities might be more likely to get infected or have severe illness because of  underlying medical conditions, congregate living settings, or systemic health and social inequities. All people with serious underlying chronic medical conditions like chronic lung disease, a serious heart condition or a weakened immune system seem to be more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely than adults without disabilities to have heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a stroke.   


Disability groups and risks

If you have one of the disability types listed below, you may be at an increased risk of becoming infected or having an unrecognized illness. You should discuss your risk of illness with your healthcare provider. 

  • People who have limited mobility or who cannot avoid coming into close contact with others who may be already infected, such as direct support providers or family members.
  • People who have trouble understanding information or practicing preventive measures, such as hand washing and social distancing.
  • People who may not be able to communicate symptoms of illness.


Protect Yourself

If you or someone you care about are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, take steps to prevent getting sick. In addition to practicing everyday preventive actions, people with disabilities who have direct support providers can help protect themselves from respiratory illness in the following ways:

  • Ask your direct support provider if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have been in contact with someone who has had COVID-19


  • Tell your direct service provider to wash their hands when they enter your home as well as before and after helping you get dressed, bath,shower, transfer toileting, eating, handling tissues, or when changing sheets, or doing laundry. 
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects along with equipment such as wheelchairs, scooters,walkers, canes, oxygen tanks, tubing, and communication boards or any other assistive devices.


There are some additional things people with disabilities can do to prepare during the COVID-19 outbreak 


  • Plan what you’ll do if you or your direct support provider gets sick. Create a contact list of family ,friends ,neighbors , and local service agencies that can provide support just in case you or your direct support provider becomes sick or unavailable.
  • Plan at least two ways of communicating from work and home that can be used rapidly in an emergency, such as a landline phone, cell-phone, text messaging, or email. Write this information down and keep it with you. 
  • Have enough household items and groceries so that you will be comfortable staying home for a few weeks and at least a 30 day supply of over the counter and prescription medicines. Be sure to have any medical equipment or supplies that you might need on hand. Some health plans allow for a 90-day refill on prescription medications. Consider discussing this option with your healthcare provider. Make a photocopy of prescriptions, as this may help in obtaining medications in an emergency situation. 


About COVID-19 

  • The coronavirus disease is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another within 6 feet through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching an object or surface that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose,eyes, or ears. 
  • Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are in close contact with someone known to have COVID-19, such as healthcare workers, direct support providers, and household members. Other people at higher risk for infection are those who live or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19 or those immunocompromised.



The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, including: 


  • Wearing a mask
  • Staying at least 6 feet away from people who don’t live with you 
  • Avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces
  • Washing your hands often, or using hand sanitizer made with 60% alcohol 


Get a COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccines are now available to help protect you from getting COVID-19. Disability alone does put you at higher risk for getting COVID-19 and others may be at a higher risk  for other reasons. You may be at higher risk because of where you live, such as a  long term care home. You may be at a high risk because you need to have close contact with care providers. You may also be at a risk because you have difficulty wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and washing your hands. Many people with disabilities have diabetes, cancer, heart disease or obesity. These conditions may put you at a higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. Talk to your doctor about your health conditions that may put you at higher risk  and about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Down Syndrome is one condition that may put you at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. You might wonder why your disability is not on the underlying conditions list. Conditions are added when there is enough scientific evidence to support putting them on the list. The list is updated as new information becomes available. 


Expectations after your vaccination 

You may have mild side effects, like pain, redness, swelling on the arm, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea. These side effects are normal and can last a few days. If you have side effects that do not go away in a few days or have serious symptoms call your doctor. After you’re fully vaccinated for COVID-19 you may be able to start doing some of the things that the pandemic has prevented you from doing. 


Key Takeaways

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted people living with disabilities. 
  • Health care providers should be knowledgeable about resources and tools available to ensure full access for their patients with disabilities.
  • Individuals with disabilities and caretakers should take extra steps to protect their health and safety.
  • Individuals with disabilities should document their disability and accommodation needs by updating information through registration or their health care providers.