“All of us need help at some point,” says disability advocate Khodr Farhat. And helping a Michigander with disabilities during the pandemic can really make a difference.
DEARBORN, Mich.—It’s been a tough year for everyone. A pandemic fundamentally altered the lives of Michiganders, from losing jobs to losing family members. But during this time, the struggles of people with disabilities have been felt more sharply than those of many other Michigan residents.
Though 2020 has been a rough year, it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents discrimination against and ensures access to public services for disabled people. This legislation, as the lasting damage felt by coronavirus survivors is still unknown, might mean more in a post-pandemic world.
As the pandemic persists, Michiganders with disabilities are facing unique hurdles.
This is due to challenges related specifically to the coronavirus, with disparate outcomes for the disease suspected, but hard to prove because of an absence of state data. It’s also a result of the hiring challenges people with disabilities face even in normal times. And the pandemic has been a disruption to routines that some children with disabilities rely on.
“All of us need help at some point,” Khodr Farhat told The ‘Gander. “Let us help one another in every way, shape, and form that we can, especially during this exceptional time. Let us transform our world to become more friendly, loving, and more inclusive.”
Farhat is a disability and education advocate from Dearborn, and is blind himself. So is his sister. He knows the situation disabled Michiganders face well, especially during the pandemic. His entire family contracted COVID-19 the week before Thanksgiving.
One way to support people with disabilities is to provide direct assistance. A lot of things are inaccessible or extraordinarily difficult for people with certain disabilities, and providing that support can make a great deal of difference in daily life. A person with low vision, unable to drive, might need help getting groceries, for instance, or a ride to a doctor’s appointment.
And Farhat encourages people to offer a helping hand where they can. But, he cautioned, don’t underestimate what people with disabilities are capable of. When helping an individual, it’s important to let them determine the level of assistance you provide.
“It is very important to have high expectations when it comes to individuals with disabilities,” said Farhat. “So there is nothing wrong with offering your help, but do not come across as if you’re making them feel less or not capable.”
Parent and community groups, especially on social networking platforms, are great ways to connect with people in an area that could use support. They also can help with organizing fundraisers or coming together to make accessibility projects within a community. And tackling community accessibility projects is one of the most important ways to help disabled Michiganders, says Farhat.
“Even if someone is not visually impaired, [a] wheelchair-user or what have you, it is very important to ensure that every place we go to is very accessible to all,” he said. “All of us matter, and we are all very unique in our own very way.”
There are ways to advocate for people with disabilities in a more broadly political way, like with the group Detroit Disability Power, which has been pushing for the state of Michigan to more actively track the impact of the pandemic on people with disabilities.
“COVID continues to hit Michigan hard and it’s showing a real strain on our healthcare system. We need to ensure that everyone can be taken care of and that’s especially true for the disabled community, who are already underserved and often overlooked,” Dessa Cosma, executive director of Detroit Disability Power, told The ‘Gander.
“Several times now, we’ve made strong recommendations to state officials on how to improve care and the response to this pandemic for the community, and we urge our state’s leaders to implement them without delay.”
The group is also advocating to pass a state bill called LEAD-K, which focuses on providing support to deaf kids to learn American Sign Language (ASL) alongside English.