People with disabilities battle through isolation
Pandemic takes away opportunities to socialize, work
The isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year has hit many hard, but the disruption to daily routines and how services are delivered have been particularly painful for those with developmental disabilities and the people who care for them.
“Much like everyone else, the pandemic has had a significant impact on people with developmental disabilities. Disruptions in daily routine, work life and social life have all occurred due to COVID-19,” Bill Whitacre, superintendent of the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said.
Many in-person services offered to people with developmental disabilities were reduced or altered during the pandemic, Whitacre said.
Those disruptions can be particularly hard on people who rely on consistent routines and their families, said Suzanne Macias of Boardman and Meg Glines of Austintown, two mothers who care for sons with disabilities.
“People think they are shut-ins, but people with special needs are absolutely shut-in,” Macias said. “It is hard because they need socialization, they need to visit with their peers, and they are not necessarily getting that.”
Paul Colla, 61, who lives with family in Mineral Ridge and lives with a developmental disability, is back to work now but for a long time missed the friends he has at the Niles sheltered workshop, which he attends through the Trumbull County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
He was able to fill the void with walks in his neighborhood and games on his tablet. He enjoys walking to a shop on state Route 46 to buy lottery tickets. When the pandemic came to his front door with the infection his two sisters, Colla was scared. Colla and his family are grateful for the opportunity to get vaccinated and hope to expand options for socialization, eventually.
People with developmental disabilities and other medical conditions are at higher risk for complications and death if they contract the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of the risk, Ohio has included people with these types of conditions early on the vaccination schedule and has begun vaccinating people in the category.
Meg Glines said her son, Kevin Glines, 40, has relied heavily on the electronic options for socialization, but still misses cheering on local sports teams in person, concerts, wheelchair sports, working as a classroom aide at the Javit Court Centre, seeing his niece and nephew in-person, and socializing with his peers.
Because Kevin has spina bifida, a tracheotomy and a feeding tube, he is at particularly high risk, Meg Glines said. So, the family canceled in-home nursing, he did not go back to work and he stopped going places.
Zoom meetings help her son connect with others, Meg Glines said.
“While many in-person services were reduced or halted, that created opportunities to interact in different ways. Obviously online platforms with today’s technology has made remote interaction possible and has allowed groups of people to convene in different ways,” Whitacre said.
One way to fill the void last year was a creative outlet that taught Kevin more skills, Meg Glines said.
Though Kevin can’t eat, swallow or taste, he and his mother started “Dessert Friday.”
Every Friday for months the two have baked different sweets like pineapple upside down cake and Halloween cake in the shape of a cat. The two compiled the recipes into a cookbook delivered to families and friends for Christmas, Meg Glines said.
“We had shirts made and published the cookbook. It took up a lot of time and was really fun. Kevin is really good on the computer, and he helped me edit it. In December, we decided to end it and start eating healthier,” Meg Glines said. “He learned so many skills, like zesting lemons and chopping.”
Other electronic meetings offered through the board and service providers have been a “life saver,” Meg Glines said, including field trips broadcast over the electronic meeting so people stuck at home could enjoy them.
Macias said her son Brandon Macias, 45, has been involved with Special Olympics and misses that immensely, along with monthly dances. While he was unable to work at Javit Court Centre for several months, Brandon went back in July, but it wasn’t the same, she said.
“He is restricted to certain areas and cannot visit with the others. It is hard because they need that socialization but cannot get it. For others it is harder — at least he can go to Javit Court,” she said. “I am thankful (Brandon) can entertain himself. He watches his videos and DVDs and does chores. But I don’t know what I would do if he was just sitting in a wheelchair — and there are quite a few people who are non-verbal and stuck in wheelchairs. It is difficult.”
Brandon has been enjoying electronic programs, too, including a book club where they are reading “Charlotte’s Web” and a photography group.
Whitacre said the pandemic also has made transportation a challenge and reduced capacity in adult day cares.
“Adult day providers have to comply with group-size limitations and keeping people in separate cohorts to help reduce the possibility of COVID-19 outbreaks in day programs. A new service was introduced that allowed for small groups to receive adult day services in the community or in their residence. This was created to help offset the reduction in the number of people permitted in facility-based programs,” he said.