Partnerships shaped by native businesses make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to many New Yorkers with disabilities

Like many people, Terrance Hasan was trying to sign up and secure a vaccine appointment in early 2021 when it became available in New York.

Hasan, who has a mental disability, worked with his care coordinator but was unable to get an appointment.

“My care coordinator tried to get me the vaccine from the government, and it was a little difficult because the places kept being given away,” said Hasan.

While finding a vaccine was difficult for most people in those early days, Americans with disabilities face significant barriers to accessing COVID-19 vaccines.

In February, an investigation by Kaiser Health News found that 94 vaccine websites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia were missing almost all of the accessibility features that would allow visually impaired Americans to book appointments or get general information.

Then, in March, 13 U.S. Senators wrote to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights, urging the U.S. government to ensure that all aspects of the COVID-19 vaccine process are in compliance with the Americans’ Disability Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

People move through a busy convention center (the Javits Center) to get vaccinated.  There are demarcated areas and demarcated chairs for people to sit and wait on.

Kevin P. Coughlin

People queue to get vaccinated at the Javits Center in New York City on Friday, April 23, 2021. Mass vaccination centers like this were available across the state.

Her letter asked for access to include considerations for those with autism and other medical conditions where, for example, being near busy vaccination sites could be a sensory issue.

“As each state has the ability to develop its own vaccine registration system and distribution process, please ensure that these procedures meet or exceed the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 USC 794d.) ), as amended in 1998, “reads the letter signed by US Senator Margaret Hassan (NH) and 12 other senators.

What ultimately helped western New Yorker Terrance Hasan get his vaccine?

According to the agencies that coordinated vaccination for people with disabilities in western New York and New York City, partnerships and agency-run clinics were crucial for vaccination in the areas they service.

How New York Disability Organizations Worked with Other Organizations to Make the COVID-19 Vaccine Accessible

WBFO’s Emyle Watkins spoke to agencies in Western New York and New York City about how they were making the COVID-19 vaccine available to people with disabilities.

Western New York

Thomas Ess, the vice president of Emergency Management Safety and Security for People Inc, helped coordinate vaccination efforts between his agency and DDAWNY, the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York.

“What made us successful was the ability to work across the region and share the vaccine fairly when it wasn’t as widespread as it is now. Everyone could get what they needed, we could also specialize in the environment. ”“ Said Ess.

    Thomas Ess is smiling, wearing a suit and standing in front of a yellow background.

People Inc.

Thomas Ess is the Vice President of Emergency Management Safety and Security for People Inc,

Ess told WBFO in April that the DDAWNY agencies and local government have realized they all have a role to play. The agencies knew the people they served in order to be able to plan and support them, and the county came to actually give the people their chance.

“The idea here was that we need someone in a task force to organize almost everything among all agencies so that it is efficient. And you know, because honestly the Department of Health couldn’t or shouldn’t. You know, you know, each of these people [who needed to get vaccinated]. So we got to sit down through the DDAWNY, the volunteer organizations, and government operations to work on a vaccine task force to prioritize the scheduling of all these people, and then get the Erie County’s Department of Health, come in and do this Vaccination.”

“But all the support around it, including the building we did it in, how it was organized and designed, and then specialist staff there to help out in certain situations, was supported by People Inc. and the other agencies to make sure that “that we could have a successful clinic,” said Ess.

Terrance Hasan smiles into the camera and wears a blue checkered button-down.  He is standing in front of a white brick background.

People Inc.

Terrance Hasan currently works in People Inc’s Young Adult Life Transitions (YALT) program, which he also completed in 2005. In April, he announced that the COVID-19 pandemic, like everyone else, has had a major impact on his life. Prior to COVID, he was involved in the Kenmore Lanes Bowling League, went to church every week, worked at People Inc., and spent time with loved ones. He said the vaccination “will make me one day see a light at the end of the tunnel” and said the vaccine opened doors for him to be sure to see some of the people he loves again.

And because Hasan is supported and works for People Inc., he was ultimately vaccinated there.

“I feel like getting the vaccine was easy, they put my name on the list. And then when my name came up I just went and got the vaccine, “said Hasan.

Ess says about 95 percent of the People Inc population are now vaccinated according to the DDAWNY clinics. People Inc says the high vaccination rates have allowed the people they serve to return to some activities.

New York City

In western New York, DDAWNY agencies have been successful by working with local and state offices.

AHRC New York City, New York’s largest provider of services for people with disabilities, also relied on a partnership. CEO Marco Damiani says this resulted in 90 percent of people living with AHRC being vaccinated.

“As a large organization in the state, we were able to quickly partner with a very large long-term pharmacy. And they gave us vaccination clinics all over New York City. And we ended up vaccinating 1,000 people on this program in our first week, “said Damiani.

A group of six people sit on chairs with space between them, all giving a thumbs up.  An employee stands back and does the same.  Everyone is wearing a mask.  You are in a green room with tile floors.

AHRC New York City

AHRC New York City Queens Apartments residents and employee Jessica Colon are pictured at an AHRC New York City vaccination site in January.

The spread of the virus influenced vaccination decisions

As the pandemic continues, people with disabilities are at high risk for COVID-19. Ess believes that the severity of COVID-19 levels among people with disabilities has motivated people to get vaccinated.

In April, Ess said that People Inc cared for 855 people in 147 group homes. Ess said they had 125 new cases and their first 10 deaths between mid-December 2020 and late January 2021.

“So in that six-week period we’ve seen people turn positive across the board, and unfortunately, many people have had negative experiences with COVID,” said Ess.

Ess said they had set up rest breaks as entire houses and staff structures became sick. It was hard to keep up with how quickly it was spreading.

“We lost 10 people, which we didn’t have before. We hadn’t lost anyone until December. So that’s really difficult when you watch your friend die, ”said Ess.

That doesn’t mean people didn’t have questions or were unsure at first. For Hasan, he said he did a lot of research before deciding to take the shot.

“It’s new and I had questions about it. And I really had to do my homework before I did it [got vaccinated for COVID-19]. I just didn’t want to go into something without knowing it, “said Hasan,” … without knowing what it is about. Now that I have it, I’m glad I have it. Because I can be around people who have been vaccinated. “

He added that he also researched a lot of information about COVID-19 and how it affects people when they get sick and took this into account in making his decision.

“When it was time to get the injection, I knew that if I didn’t get the injection and get sick, I could run the risk of losing my life,” said Hasan. “Those are the chances we run if we don’t get the shot [it will] to decrease [the chance of getting it] or reduce the likelihood that if you get COVID, it won’t get you as bad as if you didn’t get the vaccine, ”Hasan said.

The future of COVID-19 vaccination

As the delta variant rises sharply, not only are unvaccinated people still vaccinated, but the CDC recommends that immunocompromised people speak to their doctor about a third dose, and booster vaccinations will come for everyone from September.

Damiani says that in the future all websites must be accessible, not just the websites created by organizations like his.

“I know, at least in the abstract, I don’t want a special vaccination clinic, I want all vaccination clinics to work. It is a lot of work to do. It wasn’t in our original job description to run pandemic vaccination clinics, we did it, we did it well.

But that’s a lesson you’ve learned. And I think this is a good example of the role of government in growing together as much as possible around a common sense of purpose and responsibility. And then, by using the resources that organizations like ours with particular expertise can provide, you are helping to fill some of these things for all sorts of combinations of things to be done in the future, “said Damiani.

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