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Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Persons with Disabilities + Ways to Support Them

Easterseals Iowa and the Pandemic

April 30, 2020

During this crisis all Iowans are suffering in one way or another — some are without work, while some are struggling with mental health at home. Everyone is worried for the health of themselves or their loved ones. Iowans with disabilities are experiencing all of these scary times on top of the challenges they already have to overcome. COVID-19 is impacting persons with a disability in ways that you may not even be aware of.

Increased Isolation

Research shows that isolation is more dangerous on overall health and wellness than smoking or obesity. People with disabilities face isolation throughout their entire lives. As the pandemic continues, they are often feeling the impacts of isolation even more than before. While many of us are taking our time at home to participate in virtual happy hours, games nights or video chats, people with disabilities are often at home with little to no contact with the outside world.

Lack of Access to Technology

Many of us are making use of our additional time at home, we are binge watching tv shows we missed, having movie marathons and video chatting with friends and family around the world. These things are helping pass the time, as well as keeping us smiling and connected. Many Iowans with disabilities don’t have access to the technology necessary to do these things. They aren’t able to watch anything they want with a click of a button and don’t always have a device with the capabilities to video chat.

Living in Poverty

People with disabilities are often living in poverty. They have increased medical expenses, lower paying jobs or no jobs at all. In fact, one in four of working age Iowans with disability live in poverty compared to one in 10 of their peers. Therefore, many times persons with disability have a very strict budget and may only be able to purchase groceries for the week ahead of them. This not only is stressful, but can also be extremely dangerous. Many Iowans with disabilities have co-occurring health issues, and are more at risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. Because of their financial situation they have to continue exposing themselves to the community to obtain basic necessities to live.

Reliance on Community Transportation

For many people with disabilities driving is not an option. They oftentimes rely on public transportation to get them to the grocery store, to their place of employment or to doctors’ appointments. Many of the public transportation outlets in Iowa have drastically reduced their services, making it difficult for people who rely on those to get where they need to go.

Learn more about DART’s service right here in Greater Des Moines (DSM), including safety efforts and new service hours.

Mental Health

One in five Iowans live with mental health issues, and many Iowans with disabilities are also facing mental health issues. The fear of this unprecedented time is impacting so many, and for people who have already been struggling with anxiety and other mental health issues, this time can be absolutely devastating.

Easterseals Iowa, and many other outstanding community providers, are working tirelessly to protect and support people with disabilities during this time. We are still providing essential services that our clients rely on. We are in client homes supporting them with medication management, telehealth visits, grocery shopping, budgeting, preparing healthy meals, getting outside to exercise and get fresh air, providing in home activities to keep busy and supporting clients with mental and physical health along the way. Easterseals is trying to ensure our clients are not feeling alone, while also keeping them safe.

It is so important that the DSM community comes together to support Iowans with disabilities during these scary times. The easiest way you can support is by donating to Easterseals Iowa, or any other community providers so that they are able to continue providing the supports needed. When you see people talking a walk by your house, at the grocery store, or driving by you, smile and wave. Show your neighbors that we are all in this together and will come out of this a stronger community.

You can count on The Partnership to continue to share accurate and fact-based updates as well. See more on COVID-19 here.

Sherri Nielsen

Sherri Nielsen is a passionate leader and advocate in the disability community. She started her career at Easterseals Iowa more than 20 years ago directly supporting clients and has served as president/CEO of the organization since 2008. Sherri is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and a Certified DiSC Trainer. Visit eastersealsia.org.