New government actions intended to help older Americans, people with disabilities respond to COVID-19

Following calls from various advocacy groups that the government has not done enough to help those with disabilities or older adults combat the COVID-19 virus, the Biden Administration recently rolled out new or expanded initiatives related to the pandemic.

"The Administration will take several key steps to further our work to ensure that disabled individuals, regardless of where they live or the level of community transmission of the virus, have equitable access to COVID-19 testing, masks, and other critical mitigation strategies," noted a White House statement. "The Administration remains committed to implementing these policies and developing additional policies in close collaboration with the disability community - keeping equity and accessibility at the center of our COVID-19 response and beyond."

Notable initiatives include:

  • Expansion of the Disability Information and Access Line. The hotline, available at 1-888-677-1199, will help people who need assistance using the at-home tests recently distributed by the government or help find alternatives to at-home testing. Operators will be able to order free tests, help with testing instructions or with reading test results. Operators also can help with specimen collection for mail-in testing services. Finally, connections with local public health departments can be established for those unable to test remotely, including companion support and transportation. These are in addition to existing services offered through the hotline.

    COVID-19 support for people with disabilities

  • Additional school guidance. The Department of Education will work with school administrators and educators to define strategies for safe, in-person instruction for all students, and work with parents who need additional support as they navigate in-person learning options. Centers for Parent Information and Resources can also provide direct assistance to families who need it.
  • Additional Guidance in American Sign Language. The CDC recently released "How to Interpret Positive Self-Test Results" guidance in ASL, which was a first step toward ensuring deaf or hard of hearing people can better access key information. Additional information improvements are expected - Braille, ASL translations, simplified text, etc.

  • Enhanced protective equipment distribution through local agencies. High-quality masks, in-home tests and other PPE should soon be available through community-based collaborations in order to better reach people with disabilities who may be continuing to isolate or social distance for protection.

All of these measures are being put in place to provide more equitable recovery for all Americans and to especially address the needs of older adults and people with disabilities.