Uniting People and Forging Solutions
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine, people with disabilities throughout our community have faced new and unexpected challenges. Many people with disabilities rely on public transportation to access basic needs such as grocery shopping and medical appointments. Community and caregiving services have been limited. And social isolation has been particularly difficult. In addition, countless individuals have faced sudden unemployment and financial hardship, among many other issues.
Throughout the pandemic, our staff have provided needed support in a variety of ways, while maintaining safety for everyone through remote-based services. We share below just a few of the stories of our work.
Navigating the Unemployment Compensation System
“I just want to say a big thank you. With [my staff person at the CIL], I was able to sort out all of my disability and unemployment issues, and I’m now receiving benefits. Their patience and understanding have been a huge help.”
In March, we began receiving a number of calls requesting assistance with filing for unemployment because of the coronavirus. One such community member had left her job as a cashier at a local grocery store due to a health condition that made her particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus on the job. Under the new requirements for unemployment compensation, applicants must apply online; there is no telephone application option. This community member had never used a computer and didn’t know how to apply for benefits. As bills were coming in and her income had stopped, unease and anxiety about the situation was mounting. With the CIL’s help, the community member used a computer for the first time, navigated the unemployment application system, and was ultimately approved for benefits.
Rental Assistance When It Mattered Most
As jobs were quickly being lost within our community at the start of the pandemic, we began receiving calls from individuals fearful of losing their homes due to lack of income. When one individual called us with concerns, we were able to connect her with a resource offered through Barrier Busters that provides short-term rental assistance for qualified individuals. We helped the individual get qualified and ultimately receive the assistance that she needed. Our team also helped her complete the online application for unemployment compensation, for which she was ultimately approved, providing longer-term relief.
Supporting Parents of Students with Disabilities
With schools closed and much regular instruction being provided by teachers through online channels, students with disabilities and their families were finding themselves without the help they needed. Most special education services were unable to be provided by schools, leaving kids and families struggling to conduct school at home.
At the CIL, we fielded calls from families and formed an online meetup group, ParentConnect, to bring parents of children with disabilities together to share resources, ideas, and solutions. From this group came a small community of friendship and strength. The group continues to provide beneficial information and more significantly community support for families who often feel alone.
Taking High School Pre-Employment Programs Online
Our employment team typically provides a variety of workshops to high school-age transition students to help build skills for success in the work world. When the quarantine started, our team collaborated with Michigan Rehabilitation Services to offer all of our programs entirely online, ensuring continuation of services for students. The team also quickly developed new programs, including, “How to Work From Home” and a “Transition Club” to further develop employment skills and reduce social isolation.
Some of the programs have seen even higher participation rates than our in-person programs and enabled beneficial peer synergies across what would previously have been geographic limitations among Washtenaw, Monroe, and Livingston counties. One participant remarked that the Transition Club has allowed him to connect with peers when he was otherwise feeling very isolated, while others shared that in addition to building skills, a program provided needed structure for their days and something to look forward to. The programs have been so successful that even after in-person programs resume, components will remain online, providing greater access for families in remote communities and an opportunity to join groups for those who have social reluctance.
Advancing Small Businesses for Women
“The EmpowerYou program has given me the confidence to go forward with my dreams. [The program leader] has been a true gift for me. Working in this program and forming my business has been like a dream that has finally come true.”
The EmpowerYou program is an intensive, year-long small business support program for women in underserved areas which has been supporting women in the community since 2018. Since the start of the pandemic, the program has provided its twice-weekly sessions online instead of in-person, maintaining continuity of business instruction, guest speakers, and peer support throughout the quarantine period. Participants have rallied with the online program, continuing to advance their business concepts and deepen their peer support of one another.
Championing Important Community Issues
In addition to supporting individuals, our staff have responded quickly and championed a variety of pressing issues facing people with disabilities amidst this crisis. A few of the issues we’ve been fighting for include:
- The right to have a companion be present during medical appointments and services. Family members and caregivers serve vital roles in obtaining appropriate care for a patient with a disability, even when facilities restrict access to patients only.
- The end of medical rationing against people with disabilities. We have the right to receive needed care the same as everyone else!
- Police education on disabilities as part of policing reform bills up for review.
- The ability to use food assistance funds for online grocery purchasing, to help people with disabilities avoid trips to the store during coronavirus and always.
- Easier access to our direct care workers and a pay increase for direct care workers during the coronavirus pandemic due to inherent hazards.
- Better, more accessible informational materials related to COVID-19. We need the same access to information as everyone else!
There are many issues continuing to face people with disabilities as the pandemic evolves. We continue to work hard to make sure that the voices of people with disabilities are heard and that better solutions are achieved.
Diminishing Social Isolation
Amidst serious and difficult issues, we have also brought enjoyment and new things to do through online recreation, including a movie club and a “do it at home” art program. These programs have also counteracted the social isolation experienced by many people with disabilities during the quarantine.
Virtual Movie Club
Who doesn’t love a movie and popcorn? Well we couldn’t exactly bring popcorn, but through our online movie club, we’ve brought people from around our community together to engage in thought-provoking discussion and laughter around popular movies. Each week, we have announced a scheduled movie, which we helped individuals get access to through their devices at home. Participants watched the movie ahead of time and then got together online for trivia, discussion questions, and, most of all, laughter.
Virtual Art Studio
At the CIL, we love art. During normal operations, we continually offer it in our Gathering Place. With our building closed, we quickly formed our Virtual Art Studio, providing a fun and social outlet for people to flex their interest in art using stuff people already had at home. Led by an art instructor at EMU, weekly art sessions now offer unique and creative art projects using simple supplies and basic instructions. Projects have included collage making, visual story-telling, paper mache, “scratch art,” bracelet-making, and more. Participants attest this has been a fantastic way to stay connected to art while having fun and doing something new.