By Sarah Davidson
COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people living with disabilities and their families. Many families and siblings with brothers/sisters with disabilities have had to adapt to a completely new health care system. While the health care system is focused on COVID-19 right now, many brothers/sisters with disabilities continue to need routine care from the health care system during these unprecedented times. During the pandemic, doctors have attempted to limit in-person contact while still meeting the needs of their patients by utilizing telehealth appointments and reducing caregivers’ attendance at appointments. The new changes both online and in-person have presented new challenges within the disabled community.
In December 2020, Massachusetts General Hospital (“Mass General”) released a mission statement to ensure that their patients with disabilities receive the care they deserve. Mass General wants to ensure that all health care providers are knowledgeable about resources available for their patients with disabilities and their families. Mass General has many accommodations that can be requested in the health care setting to support individuals with disabilities and their families. For communication needs, individuals can request that staff wear clear masks, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter be present, or be given hearing enhancers. While it is important to reduce the amount of social contact, before an appointment brothers/sisters with disabilities can request to bring an additional support person. Mass General has also created a health care system through a virtual environment. To support those with disabilities, the virtual environment provides real-time ASL interpreters, a support person, and virtual text to be compatible with screen readers.
Along with increasing accessibility for brothers/sisters during COVID-19, Mass General is also trying to identify barriers in the disability community and address them through the development of policies, guidelines, and many COVID-19 resources for both patients with disabilities and their families. Mass General is trying to build a better system to support people with disabilities by:
Adopting an inclusive, human-centered design: Approaching a problem with the disability community in mind and creating new solutions to support them.
Collecting disability data: Including people with disabilities in studies, clinical trials, and data collection to ensure an accurate representation of the disabled community.
Developing training programs for health care professionals: Aligning program with the specific care and rights of people with disabilities, while also addressing the societal stigma that creates additional barriers for people with disabilities.
For more information on Massachusetts General Hospital’s COVID-19 policies to support the disability community:
For further information contact your health care provider.