I wanted to write about something other than coronavirus this week, mostly to give The Durango Herald readers a break from this all-encompassing issue. But that wouldn’t be authentic. The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is impacting everyone, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Southwest Colorado.
Before this pandemic, people with IDD already experienced social isolation at a higher rate than people without disabilities for a variety of reasons. Adults with IDD often have transportation and financial barriers that make it difficult to take advantage of social opportunities. Children and adults with IDD struggle with being ignored, ostracized or even mistreated by their peers. Even service providers can act as a barrier by either setting expectations far too low or failing to find ways to engage people with IDD in meaningful community activities.
With the recent stay-at-home orders and risk of contracting COVID-19, people with IDD are finding their options even more limited. All group activities have been canceled for the foreseeable future, and even community outings are limited by the fear of exposure. Like most people without disabilities, adults with disabilities are sheltering in place with their families (or host home providers) or alone without much relief. Many adults with IDD who usually receive services in the community or at home are receiving much reduced support in order to reduce the risk to themselves and others. Because many conditions that cause IDD are also associated with health problems that could put them at risk, even trips to the grocery store or having someone come into the home could have dire consequences.
Children are having similar struggles. School is canceled, and along with it the sense of routine and structure upon which many children with disabilities rely. Though the special therapies that children receive are available through telehealth, there are situations where that isn’t effective. Plus, we all know that internet connectivity can vary widely within our region and isn’t available for some families to access telehealth effectively.
However, children and adults with IDD have a lot of resilience as well. In fact, the coping mechanisms the disability community uses could be lessons to all of us. In some cases, moving life to a virtual world has been difficult for those who do not have access to or training to use technology. Yet for others, technology has been a portal for socializing for years, and they have been able to develop rich social lives using creative means that the rest of us are just now being forced to explore.
We hear horror stories from other communities about people with disabilities being denied treatment, ventilators stolen for “people who need it more” and the rapid spread of the virus in large institutions for people with IDD. Hopefully, we will not face this level of discrimination in our region.
As we all face this disaster together, let’s keep our physical distance while maintaining and even expanding our social connections. And remember that “all of us” includes people with IDD who have support to offer others and could benefit from support in return.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.