First a note of full disclosure: I have a significant bias toward Mike DeWine, for which I do not apologize. This comes in large measure by the fact that I’ve been happily married to his daughter for 28 years and am the father to six of his grandchildren. This bias didn’t matter too much when he was Lieutenant Governor from 1991-1995, or at all when he was out of politics from 2007-2011. But it matters a lot now that he’s governor, so that should always be taken into consideration on these pages.

On Tuesday, Governor DeWine laid out a plan to soon open the state’s vaccine supply to Ohio’s developmental disability population. I want to thank the governor for including people with disabiltiies in the vaccine rollout. It is critical that people with disabilities be included, as they are often more vulnerable to health problems due to the complex nature of their medical conditions. It should be stated that many Ohioans with disabilities are already being vaccinated, as people who live in congregate settings often meet the definition of a person with a disability. It is commendable that the state Department of Health has taken this next step to include those with developmental and intellectual disabilities as well.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, starting next week, those who qualify for the vaccine must have a developmental or intellectual disability and one of the following disabilities:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Severe congenital heart disease
  • Severe type 1 diabetes requiring hospitalization within the past year
  • Inherited metabolic disorders, including phenylketonuria
  • Severe neurological disorders, including epilepsy, hydrocephaly and microcephaly
  • Severe genetic disorders, including Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome and muscular dystrophy
  • Severe lung disease, including asthma requiring hospitalization within the past year and cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Alpha and beta thalassemia
  • Solid organ transplants

If you or a loved one meet this criteria, you should check with your local health department to learn of locations available to you to begin the vaccine process. More information is also available on the state’s coronavirus website, coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Based on reporting one week ago in the Washington Post, Ohio appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to getting the vaccine to citizens with disabilities. Many states appear to be moving people with disabilities down the list of priorities. In the article in the Post, one gentleman who uses a wheelchair was not eligible because he does not live in a group home. Other states have different rules on whether caregivers (often family members) also qualify. It’s messy. Things can get complicated when you leave matters of disability determination to the states.

But rolling out the vaccine to “people with disabilities” is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. Disability is a complex construct in the human condition. The mere presence of a condition doesn’t necessarily indicate disabilty. For example, one may have a mild case of cerebral palsy and not be significantly impaired by it. Epilepsy may or may not be a disability, depending upon the severity of the condition and the impact it has on your daily life. In fact, the definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically stresses the impact a condition has on your activities of daily living, as opposed to just its mere presence. When attempting to prove total disability under SSI or SSDI, the list of conditions that automatically qualify you for it is very short indeed. In almost every case it comes back to the impact of the condition, not the presence of it.

Other conditions such as congenital blindness or deafness may have no impact on how susceptible these populations would be should they contract Covid19. There are many people with disabilities who would be categorized (if there were such a category) as “otherwise healthy.” If a person has a disability which does not put them at advanced risk to Covid, there is no reason they should be placed ahead of another person in a higher risk category.

I’m sure the state will do as much as possible to get as many at risk people with disabilities immunized. Many different organizations, including Disability Rights Ohio, have been meeting all along and providing input to the state. It’s important work and, as stated, not as simple as it may seem at the outset.

Again, thanks go out to Governor DeWine, to Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Department of Health, and to everyone working to make sure that people with developmental disabilities are valued, cared for, and included in this difficult time.

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