People with disabilities trying to adapt during COVID-19 pandemic
ALPENA — All of us have had to adjust our way of life to conform to the new rules and regulations from COVID-19 concerns.
While many have adjusted to this new lifestyle, people with disabilities have found it that much harder to be mobile or even to communicate with those around them.
Since March, new measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For most people, it meant putting a mask on and sanitizing after leaving the grocery store.
For people with disabilities, it meant finding a new way to walk to the far side of the store and wearing a mask that for some, blocks off communication.
There are a variety of disabilities coronavirus has made harder for people to live with due to restrictions on store entrances and face masks. Several area residents with physical disabilities that make it difficult to walk have expressed difficulty navigating stores because entrances have been changed. Others with mental disabilities have a hard time wearing a mask.
Judy Trapp, an Alpena resident and person with disabilities, said there are many disabilities COVID-19 made harder.
“There are a lot of people who can’t wear masks,” Trapp said. “(There are) problems with people with autism where the mask is going to be a problem. There are a lot of people with hearing impairments (that) read lips and can’t with the masks.”
Trapp said she is among those who can’t wear a mask since she can’t put it on.
Trapp said blocked off entrances at some stores have made it harder for people with mobility-related disabilities since they have to walk farther from the accessible parking to get to the store entrance.
Access to medical care was cut off during the earlier part of the lockdown, preventing people with disabilities from getting the care they need. Trapp said people with physical disabilities needed the physical therapy to help with their disabilities.
While these issues exist, rehabilitation centers, schools, and the government are striving to create a safer environment for people with disabilities.
Joe Garant, the rehabilitation coordinator at North Eastern Michigan Rehabilitation and Opportunity Center, said the center had to shut down some programs during the early part of the pandemic. They are working on becoming an essential employer so they don’t have to shut down their services and employment opportunities.
“One major issue is our supportive employment program was shut down from the end of March to June 1,” Garant said.
Garant said he and others at NEMROC installed protective glass and made hand sanitizer readily available to protect the staff from COVID-19. However, there still is heightened anxiety due to immune system issues and a fear of getting the virus.
“(We) did lose some employees that were anxious about working,” Garant said. “Some suffer from anxiety.”
Garant said they keep educating their staff about the virus and its effects. He also said they provide counseling for people with anxiety and “make people feel comfortable with a safe workplace.”
How children are reacting to the pandemic has also been a topic of concern for people with disabilities and parents of people with disabilities.
Larry Johns, the principal at the Pied Piper School, said this is his first year as principal, but from what he’s heard, students are adjusting well to being back in school. How students would react was one of the main concerns along with how the students would take to the new mask policy.
“Some of the comments said (were) it’s as if no time had passed between now and March,” Johns said. “There were concerns with the masks or would there be apprehension. They were excited to be back at school.”
Johns said they have developed a preparedness plan in accordance with state regulations and county regulations. He also said they have been sanitizing the school by themselves and with professional help to keep the school.
Johns and his staff are also aware some students can’t wear a mask and they’re “working with each individual student with the masks.”
Trapp received training under the Americans with Disabilities Act to help make voting facilities accessible for people with disabilities. There have been a few location changes over the years, but Trapp ensured it was all accessible and she said the voting places were very accommodating.
She said Alpena and the community care a lot about people with disabilities. Especially at Alpena Community College where they have a lot to help people with disabilities to get around and access buildings.
“Alpena does its best to accommodate people with disabilities,” Trapp said. “The college is a prime example. (It’s a) very caring community as a whole.”