WXXI AM News

Joseph Shapiro

Civil rights officials at the Department of Health and Human Services issued a series of actions to protect people with disabilities from health care discrimination by medical providers during the pandemic.

The actions, by the Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, at the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically address discrimination related to the denial of treatment for people with disabilities who have COVID-19 or the symptoms of COVID-19. They include:

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a small group of disability rights advocates found itself in a race against time to save the life of a woman with an intellectual disability.

The woman was taken to the hospital with COVID-19. But the hospital, in a small Oregon town, denied the ventilator she needed. Instead, a doctor, citing her "low quality of life," wanted her to sign a legal form to allow the hospital to deny her care.

On the morning of April 21, Sarah McSweeney woke up with a temperature of 103 degrees — and it kept rising. Staff at her group home worried that the woman with multiple disabilities — she couldn't walk or speak words — had contracted COVID-19. They got her into her bright pink wheelchair and hurried to the hospital, just a block down the street from the group home in Oregon City, Ore.

That afternoon, Heidi Barnett got a phone call from the doctor in the emergency room.

American Airlines has reversed a policy that meant some people who use heavy wheelchairs could no longer fly on certain small regional jets.

The recent policy banned wheelchairs weighing more than 300 pounds from some of its smaller jets. Many power wheelchairs, with batteries and motors, weigh more than that.

Updated on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, at 3:30 pm ET:

After this article was published, a spokesperson for American Airlines told NPR in a statement that the airline is reviewing its weight limit on wheelchairs: "We apologize for the confusion and will ensure all customers can travel wherever American flies."


John Morris calls himself an "aviation geek." He's a frequent flyer who, in his power wheelchair, has traveled to 46 countries. His goal is to visit every country.

In early August, José came home to the Chicago apartment he shares with his wife and five children. He'd just spent three months in the hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

"We were all so happy," says his daughter Alondra, describing that day. "Everybody in the hospital was like, he was about to die. There was no more hope for him. ... So now we're like, 'Thank God, he's still here with us.' "

What Melissa Hickson says happened to her husband — and what the hospital says — are in conflict.

But this much is for sure: Michael Hickson, a 46-year old quadriplegic who'd contracted COVID-19, died at St. David's South Austin Medical Center in Austin, Texas, on June 11 after the hospital ended treatment for him and moved him from the intensive care unit to hospice care.

When a natural disaster strikes, it's complicated to evacuate and care for some of the people most at risk — the elderly and disabled.

Now — add another complication: a pandemic.

Prisons across the country have placed prisoners on lockdown — they're kept in their cells mostly around-the-clock — as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now prison reformers are worried that the response has increased the use of a practice they've long fought: solitary confinement.

Loading...

People with intellectual disabilities and autism who contract COVID-19 die at higher rates than the rest of the population, according to an analysis by NPR of numbers obtained from two states that collect data. They also contract the virus at a higher rate, according to research looking into group homes across the United States.

Pages