With over 60 million disabled people in the United States, it is absolutely vital that we advocate for and protect this community’s needs – especially amidst one of the most catastrophic public health crises of our time. Thirty percent of all American households include someone with a disability, be it mental or physical, and we must guarantee that our vital community members do not get left behind.
Ann Brancato has a long history fighting for the disabled community. While serving as the Director of the Division of External Affairs at the International Center for the Disabled (ICD), Ann Brancato assisted in reviewing essential data used in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.
The ADA was enacted to provide disabled people with equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. According to the National Council on Disability, “People with disabilities make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. working-age population. However, they account for more than half of those living in long-term poverty.” Even with the ADA in place, the disability community tends to be forced into working low-wage jobs, often at part-time rates, that do not come with sick leave or other important benefits.
This discrimination is even more apparent now that we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic. With resources running low, attention being put elsewhere, death tolls rising, and many communities in need being left behind, we must ensure that people with disabilities are supported in the ways they need to be in order to make it through this crisis. Ann will fight to make this happen.
First, especially given that many members of the disabled community are considered high-risk for catching COVID-19, people with disabilities must be given the necessary guidance and support that they need to protect their health. This support should include accessible means of accessing information via sign language interpreters, digital technology, closed captioning, relay services, text messages, and plain language. Protecting Medicaid and ensuring access to medical professionals and treatments are also vital measures in protecting the disabled community from this pandemic.
Another critical way in which we must support our disabled community members is by engaging in the safe and vigilant practices encouraged by the CDC and healthcare professionals. Everyone must do their part to continue social distancing and wearing masks to slow down the transmission of COVID-19. We must also make ourselves aware of the specific challenges that this pandemic poses to those with disabilities. Social distancing and self-isolation may be impossible for those who rely on others’ support to eat, dress, and bathe. Limiting contacts with loved ones leaves people with disabilities totally unprotected from forms of abuse or neglect in care institutions. It is key that we listen to experts who stress the need for reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that they can simultaneously stay safe from COVID-19, while also receiving the care that they need to live.
The struggle for a safe, equitable, and accessible world for disabled people is one that we have made much progress towards, but still have a long way to go. Ann vows to protect this community and advocate for their needs, now during the pandemic, and always going forward.