Improving COVID-19 Testing for People with Disabilities and Unique Health Needs - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Improving COVID-19 Testing for People with Disabilities and Unique Health Needs

Some people with disabilities and unique health needs may have more risk of COVID-19 infection or of getting very sick from COVID-19 because of their underlying medical conditions. The standard of care for COVID-19 testing should not change based upon disability. However, these same people may also face unique challenges with getting tested for COVID-19.

Many things can create barriers to testing: limited mobility; blindness; low vision; difficulty hearing, communicating, or understanding information; and in some cases sensory challenges. For these reasons, it is important to keep in mind the full spectrum of needs for people with disabilities and to provide accommodations.

  • Recognize the diversity among people with disabilities and of where they live and work. Many disabilities are not visible or immediately apparent.
  • Know that people with disabilities and unique health needs may be more isolated and have more challenges than the general population. They may need help making an appointment for a test and getting to the test site. They may also need support during the test. During your initial screening, ask if they need extra help setting up and getting a test. You may ask, “Due to a disability, do you need any help or accommodations for your visit?”
  • Find creative solutions to safely meet their needs. People with disabilities and unique health needs need your care and attention as much and maybe more than anyone else.

Make the testing process accessible

It is important that everyone is equally able to get tested. This means making sure no physical, sensory, or cognitive barriers exist. By paying attention to these details, participation will improve for everyone.

    • Physical ease of access: Make sure the space has no barriers for people who use wheelchairs or walkers or who have other mobility challenges. People who have vision problems may have a hard time unless their path is clear. They may also have a hard time finding the test location. Have a greeter available to ask people if they need help getting around and getting tested; have the greeter arrange for help.
    • Sensory ease of access: Some people with disabilities, such as autism, or people who suffer after a trauma, may be sensitive to lights, sounds, smells, or the physical touch testing requires. Limiting the time they must wait is critical. A separate, more private space may be required. Be patient and sensitive, taking into account the person’s needs.
    • Cognitive ease of access: Provide clear information about the test, including the different steps of the testing process. This information should be available in different formats and in plain language; a visual story board can help to improve understanding. Give people the time they need to understand the information. Know that you may need to wait a little longer for a response. A swab is likely the easiest way to collect a specimen when someone is unable to follow instructions that have two or more steps.

Provide clear information about testing options at your site. There is more than one type of test for COVID-19; offer the least invasive test as an accommodation, even if it is not the standard test provided at your site.

Tips to improve ease of access

  • Some people may be unable to wear a mask due to their disability. This should not block them from being tested. Consider how your clinic can provide for their needs. For instance, meet them in the parking lot or at the main entrance to do a nasal swab, or give them an at-home test.
  • At-home testing may be a useful option for someone who lives in group homes, as limited staffing may make it hard to transport the person safely to and from the testing site.
    • Minnesota and Vault Medical Services have teamed up to offer free, at-home COVID-19 saliva testing for everyone, with or without symptoms. Learn more about and order tests at COVID-19 Test at Home.
  • A support person may be needed to help people with disabilities or special health needs during the testing process. Your site should allow a support person to stay with them during the test. Additionally, understand that a person has a right to bring a service animal with them.
  • Provide a phone number at each testing site that a person with a disability or unique health need can call for accommodations or additional support. For example, if a person arrives for a test and cannot enter the building due to physical challenges, or if they cannot see or read the signs, they would need additional support accessing the site.
  • For anyone, but especially people with disabilities and their caregivers, information about testing and what to expect is critical. Provide this information in advance, in plain language and in a format that the person can understand.
  • Transportation to and from testing sites may be needed for people with disabilities and unique health needs.
    • If your health system offers accessible transportation, make this option clear for people who may need testing at your site, as well as the process for securing a ride.
    • Transit Link is a curb-to-curb minibus or van service for the general public that operates on weekdays throughout the seven-county metropolitan area. It is a shared-ride service, which must be reserved in advance. Riders should call 651-602-LINK (5465) to reserve a ride.
    • Certified Metro Mobility riders can schedule transportation online at the Metropolitan Council’s webpage Scheduling Metro Mobility Trips.
    • For Greater Minnesota, call SEMCAC Transportation at 800-528-7622 and select option 3.
  • People who are deaf or whose hearing depends on lip reading may find it hard to understand health workers who wear non-transparent face masks. Be sure to have a way to communicate, such as a white board, pen and paper, or a computer app. A sign language interpreter may be needed for some people. Wearing a clear mask can be helpful for people who read lips and others who are uncomfortable with people wearing masks.  
  • Make sure wheelchairs can access both outdoor and indoor testing sites. Consider also where a person must park and the path they must walk to enter the test area, whether they arrive by car or on public transportation. A person that has problems getting around may need a place to sit and rest. Having a chair(s) available that can be sanitized easily will be helpful.
  • Train staff at testing events so they are better-equipped to work with people with unique needs. Training should include treating all people with equal respect and patience.
  • Ensure testing services are culturally appropriate and follows best trauma practices.
  • Communicate with the person directly, even if using an interpreter. Unless the person’s hearing is limited, be aware that talking loudly may be disrespectful or even harmful to those who have sensory sensitivity.
  • Use lots of verbal communication with people who are blind or who have low vision. Let them know when you are reaching toward them, what you are planning to do next, etc. Ask permission before you touch them. Staff can also learn human guide techniques to assist someone as they walk from one location to another.

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