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People with Disabilities Are Experiencing Barriers to Covid-19 Vaccination

Man getting a vaccine.

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Key Takeaways

  • Many people with disabilities are reporting challenges in accessing COVID-19 vaccine appointments and sites.
  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, vaccination sites must be accessible. For example, the site should have accessible parking spaces, ramps, and handrails.
  • Currently, some vaccine websites lack information about building accessibility and do not have a space where people with disabilities can enter accommodation requests.

As the U.S. adds to its COVID-19 vaccine arsenal and distribution increases, calls to make the process equitable are being made far and wide. Despite a growing supply, more vaccines don't automatically translate to equal access for all, especially for folks in the disability community.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four adults in the U.S. lives with a disability–that’s 61 million adults with disabilities that are, or soon may be, eligible for vaccination. But the process has been off to a rocky start for many, from the initial step of securing an appointment to navigating vaccine sites.

Barriers to Getting Vaccinated

Gigi Robinson, a master’s candidate at the University of Southern California, was able to get her first vaccine, but the center's process was not accommodating to people with physical disabilities. Because there is such a high demand for the vaccines, people with physical disabilities may have to wait in long lines without any seating. Robinson is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, mast cell activation, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndromes which impact her mobility. “The line was the worst part for me because I have difficulty standing,” Robinson says. 

“Sometimes, I feel like the ableist community is a community that hasn’t encountered disabled people who need assistance," Robinson says. "They’ll just be like, 'Wouldn’t you just bring that help with you?'” She adds that in the case of COVID-19, where social distancing is commonplace, people with disabilities might be forced to come alone, and wouldn't have any additional help. “No one stands with you unless they’re getting their vaccine too,” Robinson explains.

What This Means For You

If you or your loved one has a disability and wants to get vaccinated, visit the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities for COVID-19 resources. Before heading to a vaccine site, consider checking their website or calling for specifics on what accommodations can be made for your needs.

Making COVID-19 Vaccine Registration Accessible

The CDC issued a series of recommendations for vaccination clinics on how to make their vaccine outreach and registration accessible. These recommendations include providing other scheduling options in addition to web-based forms, using a variety of media channels such as newspaper, radio, and TV, and working with organizations to serve people with disabilities. In addition, the CDC recommends that vaccine information be provided in a variety of formats including:

  • American Sign Language 
  • Braille
  • Easy-to-read materials with large pictures, text, and visual cues

When Robinson registered for a vaccine appointment, she explained that there was no place to list the type of accommodations she needed. “Making it more clear on the website to register what kind of disability” a person has would help, Robinson says. 

Signing up for a vaccine was a convoluted process for Lucy Trieshmann, JD candidate at New York University’s School of Law and disability rights activist. She tells Verywell when signing up for her first dose, there were a variety of links to register for a vaccine appointment which caused confusion. “I found out that someone who didn’t go on the website and didn’t register until that evening ended up getting an appointment that was earlier than mine by like a week or two,” Trieshmann says. “I don’t understand how that happened so it’s just confusing.” 

For people who have a visual or cognitive disability, Trieshmann says that the enrollment process is not inclusive to this population’s needs. “I think there should be some way for you to give consent to your doctor to sign you up for an appointment slot,” Trieshmann says. “Only people who have access to electronics are able to sign up. So that dips into issues of ableism and medical racism.” 

Making COVID-19 Vaccine Sites Accessible 

Robinson explains that although seating would help those with physical disabilities, vaccination sites would need to make an effort to clean and sanitize seating areas because of COVID-19. “If I had a place to sit down, it would be kind of difficult for me to gauge what I would or would not do because of COVID,” Robinson says. 

Another way that vaccination sites could improve accessibility is by providing building information at the time of sign-up. Both Robinson and Trieshmann said that because their vaccination sites were hosted in relatively newer buildings, they had access to wheelchair ramps and elevators. However, this likely isn’t the case for all vaccination sites across the country.

“Is this certain entrance going to have a ramp?" Robinson says. "Or is it going to have stairs? Is there going to be somebody who can help you if you have a cane and can’t see or if you are hard of hearing?" Robinson says vaccine sites have these features and list their accommodations for people signing up. 

All in all, vaccine equity has a long way to go. Robinson and Trieshmann hope that vaccine registration and sites will be accessible to all folks with disabilities by including hearing and visual aids, on-site support, listing out building information, and more. “Hopefully, this is the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of disabled people that have been living life under a rock for the last year,” Robinson says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability impacts all of us. Updated September 16, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for vaccinating older adults and people with disabilities for vaccination sites. Updated February 17, 2021.

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