Post-Pandemic Roadmap for People With Disabilities
with Angela Williams of Easterseals
People with disabilities face unique challenges in everyday life — challenges that have been magnified by the pandemic.
Angela Williams, President and CEO of Easterseals, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities and efforts to support this community during and after the pandemic.
July 30, 2021
Anderson: After more than a year of pandemic living, there are signs of recovery, but for some 61 million people with disabilities, recovery can be complicated. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The challenges people with disabilities face post-pandemic could have devastating short- and long-term consequences on their quality of life and well-being. Joining me to talk about the findings from a new study on the impact of COVID-19 for people with disabilities is Angela Williams. She is the president and CEO of Easterseals. And, Angela, thanks for being here.
Williams: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So these findings, they're pretty groundbreaking, considering the fact that there really hasn't been a comprehensive look at how COVID-19 impacted people with disabilities. I know that's something that you talk about at the national level. It's something that you talk about with board members, of which I am one. And I'm wondering why it's so important that we have a real measure of how people with disabilities were impacted by COVID-19.
Williams: There are three areas that I want to talk about that I think are so important for people with disabilities. It's healthcare, education, and access to work. COVID-19 only ripped open even more so the disparities and gaps between access to healthcare, education, and workforce for people with disabilities. It's important for us to know about this so that people with disabilities aren't left behind. So in order to shed light on this, we were graced with money from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to use to hire Accenture to do this study. And there are some groundbreaking results that I think are extremely important to focus on.
Anderson: One of those results is that it shows a bit of a blind spot, a bit of a disconnect between the medical profession and people with disabilities. What did the survey show you?
Williams: The survey shows that over 50% of medical professionals will say that they have not received the appropriate training in medical school to serve people with disabilities. Additionally, we heard from people with disabilities during COVID that they were not receiving the care that they need, would we take a look at how they were treated if they were infected with COVID, that they were put at the bottom of the list in terms of the triage, and when the quality of life of a person with disability is measured, they come out lower than someone who is, per se, "able-bodied." So the other thing that I would point out is that prior to COVID, medical doctors weren't giving the necessary annual exams for people with disabilities in the way that others receive them. And when you think about a person with a cognitive disability who's not able to communicate what the issues are, or if you think about a person with a complex medical condition that uses an assistive device like a wheelchair and doctors don't move them out in order to do the exam, that's a problem. And so medical conditions have been compounded over the time that COVID has been very, very much a part of our lives.
Anderson: Over 50% of doctors saying that they're not properly trained to deal with people with disabilities. How shocking is that for you to hear?
Williams: It is shocking, and that's why it's so important that curriculum be developed to train medical students, that there is the public-private partnership so that we can all come together to find solutions to give better access to healthcare to people with disabilities.
Anderson: And when it comes to solutions, the survey was meant to be a bit of a road map. Once problems are discovered, there's an opportunity to move forward. So what is Easterseals doing with this knowledge? What's the organization doing to help get people back on track as we exit the pandemic?
Williams: I think one of the biggest tools that we have is to be an advocate and to be an advocate at the federal level, at state and local levels, also to join forces and collaborate with other partners to make sure that there is access to healthcare, that students are not left behind, that those million or so people with disabilities that lost their jobs doing COVID are able to get back into the workforce and that on-ramps are created to support them.
Anderson: And, Angela, if people want to find out more about the work that Easterseals does, where can they go? What's the website?
Williams: Our website is easterseals.com. And on our website are a number of tools that will help those living with disability.
Anderson: Angela Williams, president and CEO of Easterseals, thanks so much for being here.
Williams: Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.