Across the country, people with disabilities and their family and friends have been speaking up about the importance of equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution. In this guest post for the ACL Blog we hear from two Arizona self-advocates who shared their stories at a recent press conference hosted by Arizona’s protection and advocacy agency and other disability advocates. Katie Griffith and Calvin Cook were interviewed by George Garcia, Executive Director of the Southwest Institute for Families and Children. They began by introducing themselves.
Katie: My name is Katie Griffith and I have cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia. I am part of People First of Arizona and also advocate for The Arc of Tempe.
Calvin: My name is Calvin Cook and I have a spinal cord injury and a traumatic brain injury along with hydrocephalus. I am the president of the Youth Action Council of Arizona and a member at large of People First of Arizona.
How has COVID-19 affected your life?
Katie: I have had a lot of anxiety because of the virus. I am a very active person and I am no longer able to go out. I have suffered through a lot of depression. I have seen many people pass away.
Calvin: I am scared to go out. I mainly use public transportation to get around but now I do not use public transportation because I am afraid I might get the virus. I also have a lot of anxiety. I recently went to help a friend learn how to use Zoom on her phone and I became worried that I was sick and it turned out I was having an anxiety attack. I am also not able to go to school in person. I now have to do everything online.
What have you done to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities during this time?
Katie: I recently told my story at a press conference for the Arizona Center for Disability Law. I also advocate for The Arc of Tempe to let people know to speak up for themselves.
Calvin: I spoke at a press conference to let people know how this virus has affected me. Many people like me may not have access to the vaccine because of transportation. I believe many people like me would not feel safe using public transportation to go to a vaccine site so that can be a barrier.
Why is this important to you?
Katie: It is important so I can continue to feel safe outside in my community, so I can do things in my community and other people with disabilities can get a chance to get back out into their community.
Calvin: It is important because I am a self-advocate and I want to see people have the opportunity to receive fair treatment. I think individuals who are susceptible to get the virus should have the opportunity to receive the vaccine and get it sooner. If someone has a higher risk of getting the virus they should have the opportunity to get the vaccine.
What would you like other self-advocates to know about advocating for themselves?
Katie: The issues for people with disabilities may have been about the shot and difficulty getting it because they are not considered eligible to get it. People with disabilities are left out of that and they cannot get it.
I know a mother of a boy with autism that got her shot, but her son could not get his shot because he did not qualify even though he was at high risk at getting the COVID virus and he was not able to receive it.
I would like self-advocates to know that it is very important to get it… and realize the importance of getting the COVID vaccine and understand what COVID is in order to protect your health. Important to know what it is and to make it in plain language that people with disabilities can understand.
Calvin: I would like them to know that they are important enough to advocate for themselves, speak up. I would like to remind them and encourage that life does matter, that them speaking up and advocating is helping the next person. If people with disabilities speak up, they are helping others with disabilities and people without disability learn how to empathize more, and change their perspective of the law and society. I am helping everyone. We are not expendable. We are people first. How we feel, and our desires, matter. It is okay to speak up and say how we feel. Someone will listen. If enough people are speaking up and listening, then enough people will be heard and that is where we will see change happen.