Arizona’s disabled community wants priority for vaccine, more accessibility

Mar 5, 2021, 4:55 AM
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)...
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

PHOENIX – Arizona has adopted a hybrid vaccination system, with the state-run sites limiting service to previously eligible populations while phasing in age groups.

County health departments will now determine how to prioritize at-risk groups and vulnerable populations as their vaccine allocations increase.

In the meantime, those with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been left out of the priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona.

A group of advocates on Thursday held a virtual press conference expressing their concerns about how the state has prioritized vaccination eligibility.

“This hybrid approach introduces age categories but it completely ignores people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those who live with Down syndrome,” Sey In, staff attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law, said.

Last week, the Arizona Center for Disability Law and other disability rights organizations sent a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey requesting changes to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

They want to see improved accessibility and ensure effective communication for those who are deaf and hard of hearing in addition to developing a plan to vaccinate those who are homebound.

During a virtual press conference, self-advocates spoke about their struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic and described their frustrations in not being prioritized for the vaccine.

“I, for one, was using public transportation as my primary source of transportation prior to the pandemic and now I feel terrified to use public transportation,” Calvin Cook said.

Kristy Kensorg is a social worker who is now working from home with her four kids, one of which lives with Down syndrome. She, too, is fighting for the disabled community to get prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Among groups at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, people with Down syndrome stand out,” Kensorg said, as she described that the Centers for Disease Control has added Down syndrome to its list of high-risk groups.

Barriers faced among the disabled community are not few, either.

Speaking on behalf of the 1.1 million Arizonans who are deaf, hard of hearing and or blind, Executive Director for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing Sherri Collins described her experience receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine shot.

“I must have encountered about twelve different people through the entire process, not one person offered communication in writing,” Collins said.

The group of advocates has invited the Governor’s Office to engage in conversation with disability rights organizations to ensure equitable access to vaccines.

To date, the Governor’s Office has not responded to the letter.

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Arizona’s disabled community wants priority for vaccine, more accessibility