Category: Equality

11 Ways to Support People with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

11 Ways to Support People with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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.

Read more: When you say coronavirus will only kill the vulnerable, you’re talking about me

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!

Read more: How to Use Psychology to Convince People to Take Social Distancing Seriously

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.

Read more: CDC Resources on COVID-19, CDPH Resources on COVID-19, COVID-19 Disability Community Preparedness Resources

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.

Read more: Disabled people have worked remotely for years, and they’ve got advice for you and your bosses

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.

Read more:10 ways to help your neighbors and friends during the coronavirus crisis,” “How To Check In On Friends’ & Family’s Mental Health During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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.)

Donate: Sacramento COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Donate4Sacramento COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, Disability Justice Culture Club

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.

Donate: Vitalant, American Red Cross

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.

Read more: “15 ways to practice self-care in the time of coronavirus”

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. 

The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving

NxtGov and St. John’s Worked Together to Celebrate Children in the Program for Real Change by Hosting a Birthday Party

By Kelly Joy, NxtGov’s Community Engagement Marketing Chair

In April, NxtGov’s Community Engagement Team worked with members of Project Birthday to throw a joint birthday party for a dozen different children at St. John’s Program for Real Change. St. John’s provides a safe and welcoming environment for women and children who have experienced severe trauma such as domestic violence and homelessness. St. John’s hosts a community of these women and children, and the center provides housing and intensive support in a structured program that lasts between 12 and 18 months for each family. As part of these efforts, St. John’s has community birthday parties every month for all of the children with birthdays in that month. 

While preparing to host April’s birthday party at St. John’s, members of the Community Engagement Team planned out a theme, designed activities, collected party supplies and picked out gifts for each of the birthday kids. NxtGov members also reached out to their personal and professional networks and found additional donors who wanted to contribute presents for the children at the party. Mini profiles with the children’s names and interests were sent about each of the kids to the donors ahead of time. This helped the NxtGov members and community donors personalize the gifts for each child to make them feel as happy and well celebrated as possible for their birthdays.

I was so excited to see the profile of the little boy that I matched with and learn more about him. He was in elementary school and his interests included cars, fire trucks and Paw Patrol. I also noticed that his wish list also had a “light jacket” and for a moment my heart sank. My excitement reconciled with the gravity of the situation. I flashed back to the time I asked my mom about what to get a friend’s child. “Kids never ask for clothes for their birthday,” she said. I thought of my mom’s “rule” when I read the request for a jacket next to the list of possible kids’ toys I had expected. In that moment, I saw not only the wishes of a little boy on his birthday, but also a mother’s stress to provide for all the necessities of a growing boy in a challenging time.  I was reminded that although St. John’s has a wonderfully supportive program, being there is never a family’s “Plan A.” I don’t know what led to this particular family to go to St. John’s, but I also have to admit that I’m not sure that I can even imagine why. I am a mother to a toddler, and I can’t fathom how much stress I would be under not feeling like we had a stable permanent home to stay at night. Or a safe one. That is the reality of many of the women and children who go to St. John’s. And for the hundreds of others on their waiting list. I couldn’t solve whatever may have led the family to St. John’s, but I could do something to help make a birthday special for a little boy who might already be growing up way too fast. 

The day of the birthday party, the Community Engagement Team mobilized to put all of our brainstorming into action. Dozens of balloons were blown up and put on the wall, tables and floor. Volunteers filled up plastic eggs and a piñata with candy, and the presents were all collected and set up along with enough cupcakes for all of the birthday kids and all of the other kids in the community that attended the party – more than 50 in total! Each of the birthday kids had a special name tag to show that it was their birthday, and they looked so happy when they were personally greeted and wished a happy birthday by each of the volunteers. The party flew by with all of the fun activities. The biggest hits with the kids were the egg hunt and piñata. After the party games, everyone gathered in the main room inside to sing happy birthday over cupcakes and watch the birthday boys and girls open presents. An already happy day became a very special one for each of the birthday kids as they opened their presents and saw something from their wish lists. I watched a young boy open up the present I had picked out for him. He unwrapped the jacket first and immediately passed it to his mom. (I couldn’t help but think that my mom continued her streak of being right about everything.) He then opened the Paw Patrol police car and figurines, and I saw the reaction I hoped he would have when opening his birthday present. He then immediately shared the figurines with his younger sister so they could both play together. “Wow,” I reflected for a moment to myself. “Kindness begets kindness.”

Among all the activity, I noticed the kids weren’t the only ones smiling and laughing. I noticed many of the parents also seemed caught up in the fun of the moment seeing their kids so excited to be celebrated. I also looked around and saw all of the smiles on the faces on all of the faces of the volunteers. We all wanted this event to be special for the kids and their families, and it was emotional to see all of our planning and coordinating turn into not only a successful event, but also such a rewarding one for this wonderful group of women and children.


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Searching for the Invisible

Searching for the Invisible

NxtGov’s Participation in the Homeless Point-in-Time Count

By Kelly Joy, NxtGov Member

In January, the Community Engagement Team at NxtGov participated in Sacramento’s Point-in-Time count of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness throughout the region. The PIT count relies on hundreds of local volunteers to canvas set geographic areas throughout the county, and every volunteer directly contributes to making the PIT count as accurate and successful as possible. The information obtained during the PIT count gives not only valuable insight into the needs of a vulnerable population, but also potentially increases state and federal funding resources available in the community. Without enough trained volunteers, there are fewer people counted, which means the stories of those people are not heard and their needs are less likely to be met. NxtGov volunteers joined with staff members of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council and other representatives of state and local government to walk the streets of Sacramento and count the number of people experiencing unsheltered homeless. I was one of the NxtGov members who were proud to participate in such an important event for the community, and happy that our efforts helped make this important event a successful one.

There were dozens of groups of volunteers that walked the streets of Sacramento during the 2019 PIT count. The group I walked with surveyed a northern region in Sacramento’s “grid” area. We interviewed almost twenty people who were sleeping without shelter. We encountered even more that we were unable to interview.

One of the first people we interviewed was sitting on a bench at the light rail station. She said that one thing she would want to change about the homelessness system is the judgment and lack of dignity for people experiencing homelessness. “Sometimes we need a hug to get through it all. Just someone to care,” she said. She added that she felt blessed by God to be where she was in that moment to talk to people who cared to hear her story.

There were two young adults who didn’t “look homeless” by a stereotypical definition, but we interviewed them to make sure. They were both living on the streets. One got emotional and asked if we knew somewhere he could take a shower. I thanked them for their time when we finished the interviews and told them the information they provided would really make a difference. “You promise?” one of the men asked. I replied that I was positive that it would make a difference, and he seemed to be a little reassured by that.

We walked past a man trying to sleep in a planted area next to the sidewalk. He got up and offered to answer our questions. Our conversation was interrupted a number of times for him to answer questions I hadn’t asked him. After my initial confusion, it became clear that he was answering questions from another voice that I couldn’t hear. My heart sank even further when he said that he became homeless four days ago.

We encountered a veteran who responded “You’re doing the homeless count? Oh yeah, it’s January again.” He had been homeless long enough to witness many PIT counts, which take place once every two years. He had also grown up in foster care. I couldn’t help but think of the systems we have that are meant to protect people like him.

We happened across a woman who was living without shelter in a family of five, a rarity to find during the PIT count. She seemed to have a bright spirit, but there were moments during the interview that her answers felt like they carried more weight. “I have been homeless before, but it’s taking me a bit longer to come out of it this time for some reason.”

We encountered another young woman shortly after. The woman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical family violence. She was also visibly pregnant.

We encountered a number of people living without shelter. There were a number of times that only one person out of our group of four saw someone. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself how many others were there that we weren’t able to find. Every person we did find, however, will not only contribute to our understanding of who is experiencing homelessness in our state, but also made a lasting impression on all of the volunteers who participated on the night on the count.

I don’t know the names of the people I surveyed since the surveys were anonymous, but I don’t expect that I will ever forget their faces. They were all completely different people with varied needs and experiences, but all were in a very vulnerable situation in that moment. I was glad to be part of a group that was willing to look and see the humanity in what is often considered an “invisible” problem.

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Government needs to close racial pay gaps in its workforce

Government needs to close racial pay gaps in its workforce

14%. That’s the estimated racial/ethnic pay gap between employees of color and White employees across California’s civil service workforce, a new report finds. While that may seem like a relatively small difference, that 14% pay gap can add up to a salary or wage disparity of approximately $10,000 each year.

The problem becomes only worse when one compares the average pay of historically underrepresented minorities (URM, which includes Black, Hispanic/Latin@, and American Indian communities), and females of color with the average pay of higher paid males, such as White and Asian males. In fact, analysis of publicly available data show that pay gaps between some females of color and White males reach an upwards of 36%.

What is driving these race and gender pay inequities?

This analysis, prepared by Hinnaneh Qazi, as part of her UC Berkeley Masters of Public Policy Graduate capstone project, in partnership with the California’s Health in All Policies Task Force, shows that the these disparities are largely a result of overrepresentation of females of color in part-time and seasonal work, concentration of URM employees in lower paying occupations as opposed to higher paying occupations groups, and White employees being more likely to hold management positions, especially the highest paid management positions. Using supplemental data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS), the paper also illustrates that pay inequality persists even after controlling for educational attainment.   

Moving forward, the State has the opportunity to investigate what is causing those inequities – and examine underlying issues related to recruitment, outreach, retention, culture, and/or promotion. NxtGov supports work like this through our program areas, but it takes more than that. We believe our workforce should equitably reflect the diversity of our state, especially in Sacramento, one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

California is a leader in shedding greater light on the State’s gender pay gap. They’ve also taken significant measures to mitigate it, from the passage of the California Fair Pay Act (SB 358) in 2015 and a bill in 2017 (AB 168) which bans employers from inquiring about a job candidate’s salary history. This year, members of NxtGov participated in unfocus groups applying UX principles to assess the use of current state tools that could be improved to increase professional development.

It’s now time to take on racial pay inequities in addition to and in intersection with gender equity – and other cities, states, and the federal public sector should follow suit.

To view the full report, click here.

 


¹State demographic data only captures an employee’s sex (whether an employee reports being male or female), and does not collect gender identify information.

DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial organization that is not connected to any one government entity.

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