Since 1987, communities have come together every March to support Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. During this time of year, we celebrate the lives of individuals with disabilities and bring awareness to the important work of the agencies that support them. In 2021, March marks a year since COVID-19 broke out in the US, upending systems and changing the structures of work and daily life as we knew it. For over a year, individuals, families, and providers have expressed remarkable resilience in facing nearly constant change as they responded to the public health crisis.
Despite great uncertainty in the political and public health environment, providers have proven time and again their dedication to their communities. Through innovation and adaptability, many have successfully transitioned their programs to online platforms and found ways to keep individuals engaged. They continue to support individuals with one-on-one Zoom sessions, virtual day programs, group activities, and remote career development. Individuals have kept working on their personal goals by practicing daily living skills, participating in remote career exploration, and connecting regularly with their providers through technology.
Vaccine Distribution for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and DSPs
In terms of the vaccine, the roll-out will occur gradually and with varying levels of efficiency depending on each state’s process. Despite strong advocacy efforts from ANCOR and other groups, many states have not explicitly prioritized individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities for the earliest phases of vaccine distribution. Additionally, many states have not clearly designated Direct Service Providers as essential workers, or the language is too vague to make conclusions about whether DSPs are actually included. The lack of access to a vaccine puts individuals with disabilities at an even greater risk, while compounding an already growing shortage of direct care professionals and spurring burnout among existing staff members.
Advocacy Beyond Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
For individuals and providers alike, the past year has asked them to make tough trade offs — continually assessing risk against independence and community inclusion. If nothing else, the last year has shined a light on inequalities that run throughout our healthcare and economic systems. Hopefully, the pandemic will lead to a larger reckoning of whose work we truly consider essential and how we can better advocate for vulnerable communities. Looking beyond this year’s Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, change will come from collective advocacy for fair treatment from government policy, access to technology, and equitable healthcare resources.