While the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed 30 years ago, the promise of full equality and autonomy has yet to be realized for many people with disabilities. The ADA is about more than just putting an accessible ramp and parking place outside of a building; it should be a tool to ensure all Americans with disabilities can lead independent and fulfilling lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a serious threat to the health and welfare of people across the world, but people with disabilities have faced the most significant challenges. As a highly communicable infectious disease, COVID-19 preys on people with compromised immune systems and flourishes in environments where people are in close proximity to one another. This makes facilities such as nursing homes, group homes, and psychiatric hospitals ground zero for COVID-19 hotspots.

Unfortunately, the lives of people with disabilities have been portrayed by some media and national political figures as expendable and their loss inevitable. That simply must not be the case. Elected officials can and must take action to protect those most vulnerable to ensure more lives are not lost to COVID-19.

In early September, the ACLU of Delaware and Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. (CLASI) sent a letter to Governor John Carney asking for immediate action to protect people with disabilities from COVID-19 infection. The recommendations include:

  • Expand and fund home and community-based services to keep disabled people out of congregate care settings where possible.
  • Address the state’s psychiatric facilities, which have already had one significant outbreak of COVID-19.
  • Ensure that all family members providing care to people with disabilities can receive compensation, not just spouses and parents.
  • Conduct onsite abuse and neglect monitoring at congregate care facilities, and expand collection and publication of data.
  • Provide PPE, paid leave and increased pay for workers in congregate care facilities.
  • Allow long-term and intermediate care facilities to be liable to legal claims if they fail to protect residents.

Disabled people are an integral part of our community, and we must ensure that the response to COVID-19 protect their health and autonomy. Governor Carney can take action now to defend the lives of those most at risk of COVID-19 infection, and these changes can improve the overall independence and fulfillment people with disabilities deserve.