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Published: April 22, 2020
A Note from Patricia: Know Your Health Care Rights During COVID

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Image of Patricia Yeager with the words A Note from PatriciaDear friends,

We all appreciate the heroes in the health care field who are putting themselves on the front lines for our safety. But unfortunately, some are being hampered by hospital or state policies that can be used to deny lifesaving care to certain patients.

Forbes magazine recently published an excellent and unsettling article about health care discrimination people with disabilities are facing during COVID-19 called The Disability Community Fights Deadly Discrimination Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic. According to the article, “States and individual hospitals started to draft or reveal previously developed scarcity policies that either explicitly or implicitly excluded people with disabilities … not just on an individual basis, and not only as a secondary, knock-on effect … but in some cases categorically, by diagnosis and certain arbitrary measurements that have little to do with COVID-19 survivability.” (Click here to read the article.)

In light of this, I want to make sure you know the rights of people with disabilities when it comes to medical care, especially during COVID-19.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with physical or mental disabilities have a right to access equal medical care and alternative communication methods. This means:

  • You can access the medical care that you need like everybody else. You cannot be denied a ventilator or other forms of emergency care due to your disability.
  • If you are Deaf or hard of hearing, you can request captions, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting, or other communication methods that work for you.
  • If you are blind or have low vision, you can request written material in large print, braille, or in an electronic computer file.
  • You can request pictures or simple words to help you understand information.

*In certain cases, medical providers may legally deny a service animal if the animal is causing cross-contamination or causing undue harm. Call The Independence Center at 719-471-8181 if you have questions about assistance animals.

If you need to go to a hospital or medical facility, you can:

  • bring assistive equipment with you, such as a ventilator, cane, or wheelchair;
  • bring a trained service animal with you in most cases*;
  • bring a support person with you unless they are sick;
  • ask for help with follow-up care and services.

For more information about disability rights in health care, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund offers a comprehensive overview. Please bookmark it for easy reference in case you ever need it.

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How to advocate for your health care

Even in the best of times, advocating for one’s own health care can be difficult. However, you can make it easier by preparing ahead of time. Take a look at the ideas below and then think about additional things you can do that relates specifically to your own disability.

Do you need assistance during medical appointments or have special instructions for working with your disability? Consider writing your disability needs and communication preferences down on a placard and bring that with you to the hospital.

The National Association of the Deaf has created a toolkit for preparing for a hospital visit, which advises people to bring communication tools with them, like a pen and paper, and a whiteboard or a smartphone. Although geared toward Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, this can apply to people with other types of disabilities as well.

How to advocate for others

Whether you have a disability or not, it’s important to be vigilant about advocating for yourself and each other.

Learn about ways you can act now to advocate for people with disabilities by visiting the #Nobody is Disposable website. And if you have personally experienced or witnessed discrimination based on disability, share your story with the Center for Public Integrity.

Remember, we at The Independence Center are here for you if you need peer support, advocacy, or other services during this time. Call us at 719-471-8181 or email us at in**@th****.org.

If you have a more urgent mental health need, call Colorado Crisis Services at 844.493.8255, or text the word “TALK” to 38255.

Stay well,

Patricia Yeager
CEO, The Independence Center

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