Advancing Accessibility of At-Home Medical Tests
with Clark Rachfal of the American Council of the Blind
Imagine taking a COVID test, or any other at home medical test, and not having access to the results. This is the reality for millions of Americans living with blindness and visual impairment, but accessibility issues in healthcare go beyond the pandemic.
Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the impact of the lack of accessible COVID-19 testing on the blind and low-vision community, and efforts to ensure health care and medical systems are accessible for everyone.
September 29, 2022
Anderson: In January 2022, free at-home COVID-19 tests were made available to Americans as a critical tool in the fight against the virus. But for people who are blind or visually impaired, those tests were inaccessible because people couldn't see them or read the complex directions. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Research shows that people living with a visual disability are more vulnerable to COVID-19. And in June of 2022, the federal government announced a new initiative to expand the availability of accessible at-home COVID-19 tests. Woman: Thank you for choosing the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test.
Anderson: But accessibility issues in healthcare go beyond the pandemic. And joining me to talk about that is Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind. And, Clark, thank you so much for being here.
Rachfal: Tetiana, thank you so much for having me today.
Anderson: So, I want to start with the scope of this problem throughout COVID-19. What did the lack of accessible testing do to the community that we're talking about?
Rachfal: The lack of accessible testing has had a major impact on our members at the American Council of the Blind, but also on the blind and low-vision community as a whole. And I'd be remiss if I didn't add that this had started well before the rollout of the free at-home tests. But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were initially making COVID information available, the graphs and charts were not provided in an accessible format so that people who are blind or low-vision could use their assistive technology to digest the data. Similarly, when COVID vaccination websites went live, these were inaccessible to people who were blind. So, really, what we're seeing with the COVID at-home testing is just a continuation. With the focus of diversity, equity and inclusion, there's now an "A," but in a lot of cases, that "A" feels more like an afterthought than standing for "accessibility."
Anderson: So, that was no doubt a very challenging period. But this goes beyond COVID-19. In what other areas of healthcare are testing capabilities not really keeping up with the blind or visually impaired community?
Rachfal: Absolutely. So over the past two years, especially during the pandemic, we've seen a very large shift to remote monitoring and at-home testing and diagnostics, not only for COVID-19, but for all facets of our healthcare system. So, again, whether it's the inaccessible COVID tests -- That the leading cause of blindness in the United States is diabetes. So, if it's testing, monitoring, and managing one's insulin levels to prevent diabetic retinopathy, that's also a major concern. But, again, pregnancy tests for decades have been inaccessible to people who are blind or low-vision, and now with commonplace use of telemedicine, remote doctor visits, these are all aspects of the medical system that we need to ensure are accessible to people who are blind and low-vision, as well as the rest of the population so they can have the same independent access and privacy within their healthcare system.
Anderson: And I'm wondering what steps you and your organization are taking to fix all of this. It's a lot.
Rachfal: It certainly is a lot. The American Council of the Blind -- we are leaning in on behalf of our members and the broader blindness community. We know that for folks to live integrated lives within their community, they need to be able to take control of their own healthcare and manage independently their health conditions. So, we've launched a multi-year Get Up & Get Moving campaign focused on the health and wellness of people who are blind and low-vision, not only encouraging those in the medical industries to make accessible products and for the federal government to enforce accessibility regulations, but also working with exercise and fitness manufacturers to ensure that folks have access to the tools and resources that they can use to, again, take charge of their health even before they acquire these co-morbid or chronic conditions.
Anderson: I'm wondering, how reliant on technology are these fixes that you're talking about?
Rachfal: Technology is a great tool to enhance accessibility, but we are also working on behalf of and working for those individuals who either live where broadband services are unavailable or where technology does not meet their needs. Whether they're older or they choose not to use a smartphone, we want to ensure that there's native accessibility in these tests and in these medical systems so that no one's left behind.
Anderson: The CDC says that the number of people who are blind or visually impaired is only going to increase. Why is that, and what's your sense of urgency around all of this because of that?
Rachfal: The rates of people with disabilities and the number of folks with vision loss are only increasing because, fortunately, Americans are living longer. And someday everyone who's young and able-bodied should hopefully live long enough that they acquire a disability, right? So, whether that's age-related vision loss or, again, diabetes being the number-one cause of vision loss for adults, we know that these rates and these conditions are only going to increase. And I think it makes it more important than ever that we ensure our healthcare and medical systems are accessible for everyone.
Anderson: And, Clark, I know people are going to want to know more about the work that you do. What's your website? Where can they go?
Rachfal: Absolutely. Folks can always find out more information about the American Council of the Blind by visiting ACB.org. And from our website, you have access to newsletters, advocacy-related podcasts, as well as recent news about the work that we are doing, but also ways to get in touch and join a community of people just like you, living their lives to the fullest with vision loss.
Anderson: Clark Rachfal with the American Council of the Blind, thank you so much for being here.
Rachfal: Tetiana, thank you for this opportunity. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.
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 nation, visit ComcastNewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.