As we all settle into a solid first week of mass self-distancing in the U.S. due to COVID-19, we can applaud ourselves for listening to experts, disrupting our lives, and “hunkering down.” However, what many of us don’t understand is how our lifestyle changes are adversely impacting our neighbors who live with disabilities.
At WeCo, we’re a company of professionals who all live with disabilities. To us, “hunkering down” isn’t just for the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s part of the every day to us. Our ability to function each day is largely dependent upon the services, resources, and tools that many able-bodied people are now using, in large numbers, to self-distance.
Don’t misunderstand me. Everyone at our company is glad that people are choosing to be safe. We have no idea what the impacts of the Coronavirus will be for all of us. But what concerns us is that some of the actions people are taking to make themselves safe, and contain the spread of the virus, are putting some of us who are deemed “high risk” in harm’s way. And that harm could, quite easily, mean that we lose our lives.
We know about a handful of these situations in our own company right now. We are certain that, as COVID-19 spreads, there are many more in communities across America that we don’t know about. So keep that in mind as you read on.
The people in our company we are most concerned about right now are our Lead Tester/Sr. Client Relations Specialist, Maureen Pranghofer, and her husband, Paul. Maureen is blind, has diabetes and is
in a wheelchair. Paul also lives with limited mobility in that he has one leg and no arms.
I know Maureen and Paul well. Maureen and I work closely together on managing WeCo’s clients. Paul and I share a love of gardening: he plants/harvests a garden each summer, the size of which puts my mother’s Wisconsin farm plot to shame. Right now my freezer holds rhubarb from the Pranghofer’s garden and cherries from the cherry trees in their lawn.
This couple navigates life extremely well in their quaint, mid-century modern home in a first-tier Minneapolis suburb. Paul drives with a specialized van and Maureen has a service dog, named Walter, to help her do laundry, put away groceries and many other daily tasks. They have some at home assistance, but do a good deal of their home keeping on their own, like online ordering/delivery for groceries and other basic needs. Many things that we consider conveniences actually afford the Pranghofers the ability to select what they want and need, without having to ask others. That’s important to all of us. People living with disabilities that impact activities of daily living treasure having this ability.
But COVID-19 has pushed the needle on these types of services from “nice to have” to “imperative” for many people who live with disabilities. Allow me to explain:
In our Public Relations team meeting yesterday, when I asked our staff how they were faring through the isolation of self-distancing, I was shocked to hear Maureen say, “We’re doing OK, but it’s getting hard. Yesterday, for the first time in 10 years, I had to schedule a ride with Metro Mobility to go to the store where I met Paul who drove our van home with me. At the store, we had to ask other shoppers to help us put things in the cart, which Paul struggled to push through the store because there was no in store help available. Once we got home we had to find someone in our neighborhood to carry the groceries into the house for us. So many people are using grocery delivery now, there’s no way we can get anything delivered.”
So, as a virus with no vaccine sweeps the U.S., a couple in their 60s, who are both in wheelchairs, one of whom has diabetes and is blind, the other of whom cannot push a grocery cart, are put at a greater level of risk to contract this virus. Simply because so many of us who don’t usually use home grocery delivery, are taking up all of the delivery slots.
Rest assured, Maureen and Paul won’t be making that trip again. They are part of what we call the “WeCo Family” and as soon as we were aware of what had happened, they will be staying safely at home, having everything delivered by those of us on our team who are at lower risk, and more easily mobile.
I know you’re mortified. I can imagine that you’re thinking, “I had no idea that my not going to the grocery or drug store, like normal OR taking every can of soup/bag of potatoes/bottle of hand sanitizer on the shelf, was going to put someone in danger.”
Forgive my bluntness, but it’s time for all of us to wake up and realize that COVID-19 self-distancing is about more than keeping ourselves and the people we know alive. It’s about keeping US ALL alive. Here’s what we suggest:
- Don’t Take Up Food/Pharmacy Delivery Slots if You can Reasonably Get to the Store:
Think about why you’re using a delivery service during the pandemic. Might you be able to get their on your own with limited ramifications?
- OUR BOLD ADVICE: Practice the protocols advised by the CDC, of course, but realize that there may be people who need delivery and access to supplies more than you. If you’re not showing COVID-19 symptoms, are not at high risk to succumb to the most dangerous potential outcomes of the virus, and are ambulatory, make the trip to the store to get your supplies.
- Don’t Hoard: I read an article recently that when human beings are forced to radically and abruptly change behavior, it “feels” like the world is falling apart. That’s a natural fear response, but it doesn’t necessarily represent reality.Would your world really fall apart if you didn’t have a closet full of toilet paper? Six bags of potatoes? Might the world fall apart for someone who couldn’t afford to hoard supplies, or who couldn’t bring them all in the house, if they got ill?
- OUR BOLD ADVICE: Follow the CDC protocol for pre-stocking in the event you become ill, can’t go out, and live alone. Otherwise, if there’s someone you live with or members of your family who would see to it that you don’t go without what you need, do you really need to deplete the supply for someone who really needs that item? We’ve been assured repeatedly that there is no food shortage in America, except the one we’re all creating by hoarding.
In conclusion: We are NOT making any type of medical judgement here about anyone reading this. Nor are we saying that anyone should ignore advice offered by the Center’s for Disease Control, World Health Organizations or our State Departments of Health regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’re just asking you to realize that the Coronavirus is creating a strain on the supply/demand system right now, specifically where home delivery and supply availability is concerned. If you can leave space for someone whose health depends upon these services, you can be a part of the answer.
Thank you for caring enough to read this. Thank you in advance for sharing it with others and considering a behavior change.
Read Articles About WeCo Staff
By Maureen Pranghofer
My Life Experiences Before the ADA
By Other Staff Members with Disabilities
Hamilton and Challenging Perceptions about Disabilities
Toni’s Story: IT Accessibility and Living with MS
Blindness Awareness Month: How Screen Readers and Magnifiers Work
Learn About WeCo’s Work and Services
Disability Awareness: a Business Toolkit
Come visit our community on LinkedIn: Disability Employment Connection (DEC)!