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Arc of Indiana continues to advocate for Hoosiers with disabilities during pandemic

Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 11:54:27-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly two years ago, health officials reported their first case of COVID-19 in the Hoosier state.

Not long after that, Hoosiers were told to hunker down as schools and businesses closed up shop, many moving online, and public spaces grew quiet.

Since that time, the state has navigated multiple waves of the pandemic and new variants of the virus plus the vaccine roll out in early 2021.

While every person in the state has been touched in some way by this pandemic, WRTV looks at one specific group to see how the pandemic, isolation and last year's vaccine roll out impacted their lives.

"There has always been a lot anxiety and just questions through every aspect of COVID," Kim Dodson, the CEO of Arc of Indiana, said.

The Arc of Indiana is a statewide organization that advocates for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

During the pandemic, their advocates and office continued to reach out to this community made of Hoosiers who were often at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and not always getting access to the same services as they did before the pandemic as many providers and caregivers moved more online for public safety.

"Isolation and anxiety and depression, and so as soon as we started not hearing from people that we usually heard from, we started reaching out to those people to see how are you doing," Dodson said. "Checking in on them, see what they needed."

According to a report by ABC News, hundreds to thousands of continue calls come in to the Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) each week from this community with questions about COVID-19, vaccinations, testing spots and more.

ABC News reports the DIAL program was created in May 2021 and since then, this call center has been inundated with calls regarding getting vaccinated, finding vaccination sites, in-home vaccination availability, educating callers about vaccine information, and overcoming physical or systemic barriers to accessing the vaccine and booster shots.

WRTV checked in with Dodson to see if Indiana saw any issues with Hoosiers with disabilities getting access to the Covid vaccines, especially during the rollout in early 2021.

While she said some states reported some issues with barriers, and even some medical discrimination for this community, she is happy to report Indiana did not see these types of major issues.

She said the Indiana Department of Health reached out to them to be a part of the vaccine committee from early on, and they appreciate being involved in that effort. She added the Family and Social Services Administration worked with IDOH to get anyone receiving state services for a disability access to a Covid vaccine even quicker.

The state worked with providers across the state to assist in getting people in this community and their caregivers vaccinated.

ARC of Indiana and its advocates work to answer calls and connect Hoosiers with the services they need.

"We have people who answer the phone each and every day, nearly 24-7, so if they know of somebody who needs help have them reach out to us," Dodson said. "We want to make sure that they get connected to the right people."

She also added many people in this community have spent the past two years feeling isolated and scared, and still in many cases do not have all the services open to them to the extent that they were before the pandemic.

She said their direct support professionals are not getting vaccinated at a percentage she would hope by this time and many people with disabilities do not want services from people who are not vaccinated. With the current worker shortage in place, this is adding to the problem, she added.

Early on in the state's vaccine roll-out, this community was higher up on the priority list to have that early access to vaccines.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and IDOH report on the state's vaccine allocation plan, the state involved several different advisory groups in the decision-making process and set up phases for groups to get vaccinated.

The first phase of the plan was focused on supporting our healthcare system, by prioritizing health care workers who have the potential for direct and indirect exposure on the job.

This included those working in hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient facilities, home health care settings, pharmacies, dialysis centers, emergency medical services, front-line public health interventions, and COVID-19 diagnostic and immunization teams.

The second part of this phase was to protect the vulnerable in our population who are most at-risk for serious complications from COVID-19, based on latest evidence from health officials.

The next phase of the rollout focused on mitigating the spread by vaccinating those essential workers who are in settings where social distancing is not possible.

Then the state worked on vaccinating the general public which was broken down by age groups.

Today the vaccines are readily available, as well as boosters, but Dodson said for people with disabilities, transportation is still a big issue in terms of getting vaccines and to doctors appointments.

They, along with Arc of the United States, are working on videos for people with disabilities, their families and direct support professionals to talk about the vaccines and answer any questions or concerns.

If you or someone you know needs help, or access to services, you can contact Arc of Indiana.