#AdvocacyMatters: Challenges and Changes

March 12, 2021 / #AdvocacyMatters

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Disability Rights Ohio has advocated for individuals with disabilities amidst a changing world. From the start, we transitioned our intake process – both by phone and by online submission form – to function with our staff working from home instead of our offices. We also created an expansive COVID-19 resource center with information on pandemic-related topics such as education, housing, and mental health. These resources continue to provide guidance for individuals and advocates in a time of uncertainty.

In order to continue safely monitoring facilities and investigating abuse and neglect, we spoke confidentially with residents via laptop or iPad in a private space, involving additional staff to assist in this endeavor. Virtual monitoring allowed us to grow our capabilities and increase the number of facilities we were able to visit, surpassing the number of facilities we visit in a year in just two months. Finding new and creative solutions was essential at the beginning of the pandemic, ensuring that we never halted our services. In a time of constant isolation, DRO pioneered the Creating Kindness project in order to brighten and bring positivity to individuals in facilities across the state. Our staff sent over 800 pieces of safe, colorful artwork to people living in residential facilities.

Last year’s primary and general elections added another level of complexity to an already busy year. DRO leveraged the media to effectively reach a broader audience, including policymakers and voters alike. We provided essential resources and voter education to those who needed them and empowered voters to learn about their voting rights and opportunities. Through it all, our staff was ready to help individuals navigate the complex process.

DRO continued to be a voice for change as numbers of COVID -19 cases grew, writing several advocacy letters to policymakers. As the public health crisis brought about new rules and regulations DRO pushed back against the potential of rationed care, ensuring that a person’s disability couldn’t be used as a reason to withhold treatment from them.

The pandemic has exposed long-standing issues of deeply flawed systems for people with disabilities, particularly those stuck in nursing and other congregate facilities. These systemic cracks escalated from rights violations to issues of life-or-death —not just in congregate facilities, but also in healthcare settings. When vaccines became available, we fought for people with disabilities to be included in earlier phases of the distribution plan.

As we meet the grim anniversary of COVID-19’s arrival and the devastation it brought to our communities, the struggles and loss experienced over the past year won’t have been in vain. We were challenged, and only through the dedication of our staff, the engagement of our partners, and the never-wavering backing of our supporters did we achieve these victories. We will always strive to be a resource, a difference, and an asset to those who need it because we believe that #AdvocacyMatters.

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