Handicap This!: September-October 2020

August 29, 2020

From the September-October 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Tim Finnegan

The staggering COVID-19 death toll among nursing home residents in New York State (officially around 6,600) looks to have been even higher than the Andrew Cuomo administration admitted. The official death count didn’t include residents who were sent to hospitals before they died—by some estimates, this might have doubled the toll, or more. Thomas Perls, a geriatrics expert, pointed out that nursing home deaths in nearby states are triple the percentage of those in New York. “Whatever the cause, there is no way New York could truly be at 20%,” he told the Associated Press.

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Besides nursing homes, institutions holding the disabled have been hit hard by COVID-19. Alison Berkoff, of the Center for Public Representation, said, “We do not know what outbreaks have looked like at facilities for individuals with intellectual disability, psychiatric facilities, or group homes. We hear reports, but there is no federal requirement that these be reported.” Currently, the only source for national data on this is provided by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, collected from available state government and media reports. Disability rights activists are pressing for federal data collection to be included in COVID-19 relief legislation.

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The closure of schools due to COVID-19 has been especially difficult for special needs students. They are missing out on critical programs like speech, occupational and behavioral therapy. Online instruction is no substitute for personal attention, and while schools are still legally required to provide individualized special education programs, this is difficult. Without these programs many are missing out on developmental milestones and losing already-learned skills. As one Latina parent in the Los Angeles area said, “Our kids are the last to get checked on. Even before the pandemic they were struggling to get services, and now it’s even harder.”

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In the world of United Kingdom auto racing, Team Brit was created in 2015 to allow people with disabilities to participate in motorsports. Driver Luke Pound, who only has the use of one arm and drives a specially designed car, said: “We want to be the first disabled team to take part in the Le Mans 24-hour race.” Driver Matty Street, who lives with autism, adds: “The more people we can inspire to get involved, the better.” These young drivers follow in the steps of disabled UK racing legend Archie Scott Brown. Born without a right hand and with impaired legs, he nevertheless won 71 races and competed in the Formula One World Championship in the 1950s.

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