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Northern Michigan disability group helps vaccine clinics with accessibility

Spectrum Health

Not all COVID-19 vaccine programs in Michigan were designed with people with disabilities in mind, says Jim Moore, the executive director of Disability Network Northern Michigan.

But his group is working with local health departments to make vaccines more easily accessible for people with disabilities. Moore says it’s a process that will help everyone.

“Some of the things that we do for people with disabilities, people in general would appreciate as well,” he says. “It’s a stressful situation at times for anyone.”

Many of the changes he’s suggesting are simple, he says, like spelling out the process of getting vaccinated on a website so people can know what to expect before their appointment, or letting people fill out paperwork in advance.

Others might be more complex but are important for ensuring everyone has access to the vaccine, he says.

He suggests that health departments make staff available to answer questions by phone and have a process for people getting their shots to request accommodations before their appointments.

“If you need a sign language interpreter, you should be able to let the clinic know. If you need a larger font size on your vaccine information, you should be able to tell them that,” he says.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan says it’s working to implement Moore’s suggestions.

“People with disabilities face barriers to healthcare access and higher rates of adverse COVID-19 outcomes,” says Madison McCullough, the community health coordinator with the department. “Striving for the highest possible standard of health for all people and giving special attention to the needs of those at greatest risk based on social conditions is a core function of public health.”

Making it easy for people with disabilities to get vaccinated is important, not just because it protects them, but because it’s part of reaching herd immunity across the entire population, says Moore.

Brett has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before Michigan Radio, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times and worked at WXXI and WCMU. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.