The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has everyone spooked, and hopefully, taking steps to control the outbreak and prepare to get through whatever may come of it. But one group faces additional risks and consequences, as well as anxieties: people with disabilities and or chronic illnesses.
Here are five points to keep in mind about how the coronavirus outbreak affects disabled people:
1. The people most often cited as being at serious risk are largely, by some definition, people with disabilities.
While simply having a disability probably doesn’t by itself put someone at higher risk from coronavirus, many disabled people do have specific disabilities or chronic conditions that make the illness more dangerous for them.
Unfortunately, any natural anxiety disabled people might have about the COVID-19 outbreak is likely made worse every time news reports and official statements go out of their way to reassure everyone by saying “only” elderly and chronically ill people are at serious risk. It feels awful to hear people reassure each other that coronavirus isn’t that scary because it will mainly hurt and kill “high risk” people. Remember, that’s us you are talking about, and we can hear you.
At the same time, the connection between people with pre-existing medical and disability conditions could become blurred, and disabled and chronically ill people could be unfairly stigmatized. People of Asian ancestry have already experienced discrimination because of underlying prejudice and people’s vague associations between COVID-19 and China. Everyone should be on guard against any fear-based impulse to ostracize or confine people who have, for example, chronic coughs or breathing difficulties that are normal for them, and are not by themselves evidence of exposure to COVID-19.
Because of all these and other factors … both active and anticipated … people with disabilities may be experiencing a higher level of anxiety about coronavirus. And anxiety poses risks of its own.
2. It can be harder for disabled people to take prudent steps to protect themselves from the coronavirus outbreak.
Expert advice on preparing for an outbreak makes logical sense and should be followed as much as possible. But many disabled and chronically ill people’s past experiences with medical bureaucracy and obtaining responsive, flexible assistance makes us skeptical that we will be able to follow all of the recommended advice successfully.
For one thing, some disabled people can’t isolate themselves as thoroughly as other people, because they need regular, hands-on help from other people to do everyday self-care tasks. Also, laying in supplies of groceries can be difficult for some disabled people to do, when shopping of any kind is always extra taxing, and they rely on others for transportation. For some of us, even cleaning our homes and washing our hands frequently can be extra difficult, due to physical impairments, environmental barriers, or interrupted services.
Some people with chronic health conditions even worry that they won’t be able to get the extra supplies of medications that are being recommended to the general public. Depending on the medications, and what kind of health insurance a disabled person has, just getting regular refills in a timely manner can be a challenge, even when there isn’t a public health crisis.