It’s a moment many people have been anxiously awaiting. Imagine you are finally eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but when you arrive at the vaccination site you encounter significant barriers to accessing your shot. That’s the troublesome scenario at many vaccine sites where organizers have not planned accordingly to accommodate people with disabilities and older adults.

Anthem is committed to improving the health of communities by doing all we can to ensure those who want to receive the vaccine can get it. We’re taking measures to help remove obstacles to the potentially lifesaving shot by engaging with the community.

Federal law requires that all public spaces, such as public health buildings, convention centers, fairgrounds, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and other businesses comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect people from discrimination based on their disabilities. This includes vaccine clinics that are opening in public spaces around the country. Steps must be taken to ensure that all people can access the vaccine.

As people with disabilities and older adults started expressing concerns about equitable access to vaccines and reliable vaccination information, Anthem convened the Vaccine Information Collaborative for People with Disabilities and Older Adults, comprised of disability and aging advocates from across the country. One of our partners in the Collaborative, the American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD), conducted a COVID-19 Vaccine and Disability Survey which indicates that, among people who plan on getting the vaccine, accessibility and availability are potentially big reasons for not being vaccinated. In one of its first efforts, the Collaborative developed a resource guide for COVID-19 vaccine clinics to improve physical and programmatic accessibility, seeking to address some of the barriers experienced by people with disabilities and older adults.

Without the appropriate resources and guidelines, some vaccination site operators are not implementing policies and procedures to provide reasonable accommodations, seamless access, and means to communicate effectively with people with apparent and non-apparent disabilities. This includes people who are deaf or hard of hearing; are blind or have low vision; have behavioral support needs; mental health conditions; experience intellectual disability or cognitive decline that impacts understanding of clinic process and procedures; use a wheelchair or other mobility devices; experience low stamina or fatigue that may impact their ability to stand in line for long periods of time; and people with other support needs requiring assistance or consideration.

Distributed to the public via email blasts, social media, and relevant websites, the resource guide helps inform on ways to facilitate an accessible experience for older adults and people with disabilities, by addressing accessibility, communication and appointment needs, ensuring volunteers and staff have information or training related to assisting people with disabilities and older adults, and developing a process for receiving and responding to access and ADA concerns. Site recommendations include access points without slopes or steps, a “quiet room” where people can wait and receive vaccines, offering Braille versions of written materials, and American Sign Language (ASL) Interpretation. Organizers are also encouraged to make the process straightforward, taking into account barriers such as confusing websites, complex registration processes, and QR codes that assume participants have access to a smart phone, broadband, or rely upon electronic forms of communication.

By adapting the accessibility measures outlined in our resource guide, vaccine clinics can provide a more inclusive and improved overall experience, not only for people with disabilities and older adults, but for anyone experiencing barriers during the COVID-19 vaccine process.