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Pandemic creating more issues for people with disabilities

Posted at 11:56 AM, Aug 13, 2020

It's been months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is taking a toll on millions of Americans. One group of Arizonans are facing a unique set of challenges during this time.

For people with disabilities, the isolation during quarantine can be extremely difficult.

"That gets hard. Obviously, that gets hard. That gets lonely and I think you know especially... I'm lucky, because I'm able to get out and about. I drive my own car, but I think there are a lot of people with disabilities who don't kind of have that luxury, that have a hard time and are even more lonely now than they have been in the past," said Kelsea Shuldes, a student and medical recorder from Tucson.

Shuldes suffered a spinal cord injury in a rollover crash years ago. She says the shortage of medical supplies is also a concern for people with disabilities.

"There's certain things like gloves, like sanitary supplies, like personal hygiene items and things like that are, you know, are in big demand right now, because everybody wants to stay clean. But that's particularly important for people with disabilities because infection is a high risk factor for death as a result of spinal injury long term," Shuldes said.

Before the pandemic, Ability360 in Phoenix offered day programs and activities for people with disabilities. They've now turned those services into virtual events.

"Whether it's a workshop, a training or a social and recreational activity, a support group, all those kind of things... Our staff are continuing to do a lot of those activities virtually with consumers," said Phil Pangrazio, CEO & President of Ability360.

As far as education, students with disabilities who are used to relying on aides to assist them in the classroom are now having to adjust to a remote learning environment.

"Perhaps a student could have used in-person captioning or in-person American Sign Language interpretation during a lecture. They are still going to need a way to understand what is happening online," said Amanda Glass, an attorney for the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

"Some have done really well with remote learning and online learning, but others have really struggled because they require the types of support and accommodations that are really only and effectively and feasibly are provided in an in-person setting," Glass said.