Written by NxtGov member Arthur Shemitz
We choose a career in public service so that we can be of service to the public. We believe in contributing to the common good, and working hard every day to make a better California. As individuals who have dedicated our careers to bettering the world, we are leaders in our communities.
The global coronavirus pandemic, and the catastrophe it has caused, is an unprecedented call to public service. When so many are losing so much, it is time to serve and advocate for our fellow Californians, especially the most vulnerable among us.
While the pandemic has disrupted all of our lives, many of the people most affected and worried by the spread of the virus are people with disabilities. As you know, the most vulnerable groups are older people — 40% of whom have at least one disability — and those who are immunodeficient or have underlying respiratory conditions.
Here’s the good news: by practicing good hand washing, socially distancing, and self-quarantining if you have symptoms of a respiratory condition, you are already helping prevent the spread of infection to the most vulnerable. But we can always do more, so we’re excited to share 11 more ways to support people with disabilities during the pandemic. Each one has its own link to reference material or opportunities to get involved, so you can easily take action.
1. Call out people who dismiss the risks
We are fortunate that the majority of the population is not at significant risk of death from the novel coronavirus. However, people with compromised immune systems or underlying respiratory conditions — such as those with certain chronic illnesses, HIV-positive people, or people with asthma — are at serious risk. Despite this, you can still find public figures saying things like “it’s not a big deal because most people aren’t at risk.” It is a big deal that members of our community are at serious risk. When you see and hear these messages, correct them and share your knowledge of the severe threat COVID-19 poses to the disability community.
2. Amplify public health directives
Because COVID-19 poses a particular threat to people with disabilities, it’s important to ensure people are following directives from public health officials. This is the time to use peer pressure for good. If your friends and family members, coworkers, or members of your community organizations are not taking social distancing seriously, don’t hesitate to call them out. Lives are at stake!
3. Share information responsibly
There is so much worry and concern in the air, and so much confusion around what is still a developing pandemic. This is a ripe environment for rumors, misinformation, and conspiracy theories to circulate. Share accurate guidance from public health experts and debunk false information you see on social networking sites. Unfounded information could truly be a matter of life and death.
4. Accommodate remote work, even after this ends
Many people with disabilities would have always benefited from remote work — because chronic illnesses make it painful for them to travel to the workplace, or because their workplace is not as physically accommodating as their home, or for other reasons — but were previously told it wasn’t an option. The novel coronavirus has demonstrated that more work can be done remotely than we previously realized. Whenever these restrictions lift, keep these lessons in mind and work to normalize remote work in the future.
5. Check in with and run errands for loved ones with disabilities
This is a scary time for folks who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. If they start to run out of food or other essential supplies, it may be terrifying to imagine going to the grocery store and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Proactively check in on your friends and family who are at risk, and offer to do their grocery shopping or any other errands at this time.
6. Volunteer (in a socially distant manner)
Even though most physical volunteer opportunities are cancelled, there are still plenty of ways to support the disability community through remote and in-person volunteering. Kelly Joy, our Director of Community Engagement wrote an article on this topic that explores Sacramento’s opportunities for giving back to our community right now.
Volunteer: You may have a lot more time on your hands, so now is the time to give back!
Be My Eyes is an app that lets sighted volunteers provide free visual navigation and assistance to blind and low-vision people through live video.
Crisis Text Line is a free crisis intervention service available through text messaging. Individuals who experience suicidal thoughts are especially at risk during this time of isolation and disruption of normal routines, and this is a critical time to help.
Bookshare offers free or low-cost accessible ebooks to people with disabilities that make reading traditional ebooks challenging. You can volunteer online to scan books, or edit existing scans.
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, which disproportionately serves people with disabilities, remains open and has an urgent need for volunteers. Normal volunteer orientation requirements have been waived, and Food Bank staff ensure that all volunteers comply with social distancing requirements.
7. Donate where it is needed most
The state of the economy, and individuals’ personal finances, have both changed rapidly. If you have money to give, now is a critical time to contribute to organizations and individuals in the Sacramento community and beyond. (Plus, the 2020 tax year will feature a $300 tax deduction for charitable contributions, even if you don’t itemize your deductions — just another reason to give.)
8. Redirect some or all of your stimulus check
As public employees in heavily unionized workplaces, we typically enjoy a level of job security that others do not — especially relative to many people with disabilities, who are often the last to be hired and the first to be let go. Because of that, if you are expecting to receive a $1,200+ stimulus payment from the federal government, your need may be less than the need of many in the disability community. (Of course, everyone’s individual circumstances vary and you may have a spouse or loved ones who have lost their job, or you may otherwise be economically impacted by COVID-19.) Consider whether your stimulus payment would be more effectively used to support organizations supporting people with disabilities.
Read more: #ShareMyCheck
9. Donate blood
Our hospitals are about to be deeply strained, just as blood drives traditionally held at schools and workplaces have been canceled. If you can meet the screening criteria, donate as soon as you can.
10. Advocate for coronavirus relief to include and prioritize people with disabilities
In times of crisis, the needs of people with disabilities are often neglected or pushed aside as too inconvenient to deal with. Speak up and amplify demands for the ongoing prioritization of the most vulnerable.
Read more: #DisabilityDemands
11. Take care of yourself
You can’t be an effective advocate or support system to your friends and family if you’re not prioritizing your own needs. These are stressful times, and you deserve to pay loving attention to yourself as well. If you feel overextended, take some time to care for yourself and restore your energy.
This is hard and scary, and it will stay hard and scary. But with just a little investment of time, you can make this a little less hard and scary for someone else. And when you do good for others, you feel better about yourself. Our community is counting on your public service, and I’m so excited for the good you will do and are already doing.