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Ask an Expert: What do people with disabilities face during the pandemic?

Vanderbilt University faculty are sharing their expertise on a range of topics related to COVID-19.  Subscribe to Vanderbilt’s “Ask an Expert” series on YouTube to get the latest updates.

For people with disabilities, the impact of COVID-19 brings new challenges, including increased barriers to healthcare, information and much needed support systems. Additionally, practicing social distancing and taking preventive measures can be more difficult for those with disabilities, who may be at greater risk of disability-related complications if they were to get the virus.

Anjali Forber-Pratt, assistant professor at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development is an expert on disability identity. She has partnered with the American Psychological Association’s Office on Disability Issues in Psychology and the Division of Rehabilitation Psychology’s Disability Identity Committee to develop a set of best practices and resources to help people with a disability to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, she suggests taking extra steps to wash down mobility equipment, such as push rims on wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. If an individual depends on multiple caregivers, they should try to limit the number of people in their home to practice physical distancing.

“If you are blind or have low vision, you may touch more surfaces during navigation than others. If possible, wear gloves when going out in public,” Forber-Pratt says. “If you have limited hand function, avoid using your mouth to take your gloves off. Find a different mechanism to remove gloves, such as using an assistive device.”

Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing who need to seek medical care may be prevented from lip-reading because healthcare providers are wearing protective masks,” Forber-Pratt says. “Staff may also talk to them from behind a window or curtain, making it harder to understand them. Ask health staff to convey information in writing. Even bring along a pen and paper or small white board.”

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