Divya Goel, a 35-year-old deaf-blind woman in Orlando, Florida, has had two telemedicine doctors’ appointments during the pandemic. Each time, she was denied an interpreter.
Her doctors told her she would have to get insurance to pay for an interpreter, which is incorrect: Under federal law, it is the physician’s responsibility to provide one.
Goel’s mother stepped in to interpret instead. But her signing is limited, so Goel, who has only some vision, is not sure her mother fully conveyed what the doctors said. Goel worries about the medical ramifications — a wrong medicine or treatment — if something got lost in translation.
“It’s really, really hard to get real information, and so I feel very stuck in my situation,” she signed through an interpreter.
Telemedicine, teleworking, rapid tests, virtual school, and vaccine drive-thrus have become part of Americans’ routines as they enter Year 3 of life amid COVID-19. But as innovators have raced to make living in a pandemic world safer, some people with disabilities have been left behind.
Those with a physical disability may find the at-home COVID tests that allow reentry into society hard to perform. Those with limited vision may not be able to read the small print on the instructions, while blind people cannot see the results. The American Council of the Blind is engaged in litigation against the two dominant medical testing companies, Labcorp and Quest Diagnostics, over touch-screen check-in kiosks at their testing locations.
Sometimes the obstacles are basic logistics. “If you’re blind or low-vision and you live alone, you don’t have a car,” said Sheila Young, president of the Florida Council of the Blind, pointing to the long lines of cars at drive-thru testing and vaccination sites. “Who can afford an Uber or Lyft to sit in line for three hours?”
One in 4 adults in the U.S. have some sort of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though barriers for the disabled have long existed, the pandemic brings life-or-death stakes to such long-running inequities.
“The only thing that I see is that folks with disabilities are cared for last and are dying first,” said Matthew Dietz, a founding member and the current litigation director of the Disability Independence Group in Florida.