Tag: volunteer

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. 

Safe and Open Playground Space

Safe and Open Playground Space

Adventure Playground, a space for all children to explore and learn through free play.

By: Araceli Mohseni, NxtGov Member

In early March of this year, NxtGov partnered with the Sacramento Adventure Playground, a free after-school youth development program for ages six to fifteen. Adventure Playground is unique in its conception and mission: to promote the imagination, creativity and education of children. The very first Adventure Playground was founded in Copenhagen, and was originally known as a junk playground, where urban children were able to build their own spaces and structures using real tools, raw materials, and cooperation. Much like its predecessor, Sacramento’s own Adventure Playground allows children the freedom to play indoors and outdoors with raw materials like tires, cardboard, planks and paint.

On a gloomy Saturday in early March, NxtGov volunteers gathered around Director Steve Claude for orientation before Adventure Playground’s operating hours. It had just rained and the skies were dark and dreary. As I stepped into Sacramento’s Adventure Playground, I was aware of the raw materials on the premises. Tires, wood, cardboard, buckets, fish tanks, couches and giant blocks seemed to be all around making the space feel cluttered. And yet, as the orientation progressed, Steve clearly defined the different stations of the playground. There was the crafting station where children would be encouraged to build their own robots with raw and recycled materials, and hot glue guns! The pet station was adjacent to the crafting station, and upon closer inspection, it hosted a variety of animals including fish and madagascar roaches. The children would be allowed to “pet” the roaches after earning enough currency by picking up pieces of trash. The bank was meant to teach children the power of currency and delayed gratification; the more you saved your currency, the more you could “afford” to buy select items or time with the popular madagascar roaches. There was also a clay station and a kaleidoscope crafting station. There were giant building blocks and recycled couches that had found a happy home at Adventure Playground. During the orientation, Steve mentioned that we were to supervise and assist the children interested working at the different stations. Yet, Steve was quick to point out that were also meant to encourage kids to play freely and if they choose to build a robot, they were absolutely allowed to use the hot glue guns.

As a new mother to a one-year old, I was a little on the edge. Were we to allow children to roam free, to play with raw materials that could be potentially dangerous? Yes! And I quickly understood why. After our volunteer session, I reflected on what I saw, happy children engaged in play with each other and with their surroundings. It had rained the day before and the children took full advantage of the mud pits outdoors. I saw children running, jumping off the building blocks and enjoying the slides. Children built their robots and crafted clay creations while others were fully invested in petting the roaches. Our natural tendency to explore, create and learn from play are innate to us, and children covet this style of discovery and education. It was difficult for me to reckon with a model of play so different from what I grew up in. Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, which limited their free time. They did not have time to supervise my sister and I, and they were constantly worried about our safety. We lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the worst part of town, where dumpsters overflowed, cars screeched through the streets on multiple occasions colliding with the brick wall at the end of the cul-de-sac, and where drugs were sold, purchased and consumed. Because of these circumstances, my parents prohibited us from playing outdoors. We were meant to walk directly home, shut the door behind us, and under no circumstances were we to open it. This meant endless weekday evenings indoors. What I would have given to have had an Adventure Playground in my neighborhood! To run, jump and explore the outdoors alongside other children. 

As a new mother to a little one, I am happy to know there is a place like Adventure Playground where supervision is secondary to exploration so that my little one can grow up unafraid and emboldened by the power of play. Currently, about 1,000 adventure playgrounds exist in Europe, largely in Denmark, Switzerland, France, German, the Netherlands and England. Japan has a number of Adventure playgrounds as well. This European model of an after school program encourages play as a way to develop the imagination, creativity and education of children. It provides the space for children to learn and grow and relies on volunteers like the members of NxtGov to provide adult supervision and help with cleanup and set-up. Perhaps more importantly, it provides children of all income levels with the open space they need to roam indoors and outdoors in a safe and engaging environment. 


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

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