Public health emergencies compound the challenges faced by disabled individuals as the needs of this vulnerable population appear to have been overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these challenges, the newly-created New Jersey Disability Action Committee provided recommendations on how to better support this community.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle has worked with this committee to create a legislation package that responds to the committee’s findings.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the vulnerability of the disability community, and the many ways in which the State must better serve our disabled residents,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-37). “More so, the Disability Action Committee’s report has demonstrated the need for the disability community to serve as a central voice when policies and decisions are being made. This legislative package aims to ensure that people with disabilities and their loved ones have a seat at the table.”
Committee Highlights Disparities
Led by committee chair Javier Robles, the committee’s members included individuals with disabilities, parents, advocates, and organizations. The group spent eight months focusing on solutions to issues that were brought to light during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable and most affected by this catastrophic virus,” said Robles. “In addition, it has offered a renewed perspective on the importance of fighting for our lives by using all legal, legislative, and social means at our disposal.”
This comprehensive legislative package creates reporting requirements, addresses the importance of clear masks and establishes committees to further advocate for the community.
“We applaud Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle for putting forth this package of bills,” said Robles. “It is a first step toward equalizing the playing field for people with disabilities and their families in the state of New Jersey.”
The legislation’s components are:
- Establish “Commission on People with Disabilities”;
- Create “Disability Life-Sustaining Measures Advisory Council;”
- Transfer New Jersey Group for Access and Integration Needs in Emergencies and Disasters from New Jersey Department of Human Services to New Jersey State Police, revise membership requirements, and require group to be consulted on certain matters;
- Concern manufacturing of clear masks and promotes public awareness of clear mask use during public health emergencies;
- Revise requirements for health insurers to cover telemedicine and telehealth; require telemedicine and telehealth systems to include accessible communication features for individuals with disabilities;
- Require hospitals to collect and report demographic data on people with disabilities who are tested or treated for COVID-19 during declared public health emergency;
- Require long-term care facilities to submit reports regarding residents with disabilities;
- Urges United States Department of Agriculture to authorize permanent use of SNAP benefits for online purchasing of foods, and;
- Urge the Office of Emergency Management to address the needs of people with disabilities before, during and after an emergency or disaster.
The committee applauded the actions of Vainieri Huttle.
Legislation Gives Voice
“The pandemic has revealed gaps in the way this state supports people with disabilities, especially during a disaster,” said Norman A. Smith, chair of the New Jersey Statewide Independent Living Council and member of the Disability Action Committee. “These bills will give people with disabilities a greater voice in the planning of policies, programs, and responses that impact our lives.”
These thoughts were echoed by said Sherlock Washington, advocate and member of the New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee.
“The COVID-19 Disability Action Committee, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle and many others have been instrumental in shining a light on these disparities with suggestions and advice to preserve and secure the essence of life to the disabled community,” said Washington.
The bills now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.