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NM adopts measures to get vaccines to those with disabilities

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

An important component of New Mexico’s successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been reaching people with physical or intellectual disabilities and people who are homebound.

“Equity for people with disabilities is not just about distribution, but about dismantling the physical and communication access barriers in the vaccine process,” Linnea Forsythe, executive director of the Governor’s Commission on Disability, said during a news conference Thursday. Representatives from several state agencies that work with the disabled community also spoke at that news conference.

Among the measures that have been taken to ensure people with special needs are accommodated, are:

⋄ Expanding the 1B priority group to include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities;

⋄ Prioritizing individuals with disabilities through senior vaccine clinics;

⋄ Initiating transportation programs with Sun Van and the University of New Mexico to get people with disabilities to and from vaccination sites;

⋄ Providing ADA accessibility guidance at vaccine clinics regarding physical access, equipment and communication;

⋄ Creating a “homebound” designation in the online vaccination registration portal;

⋄ Changing the online registration and medical questionnaire to be more user friendly for people who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hearing impaired.

State Department of Health officials on Thursday reported five additional COVID-related deaths and 297 new cases, bringing the number of deaths statewide to 3,942, and the total number of cases to 191,945. Of those, 173,824 people are designated as having recovered. There are currently 96 people hospitalized in New Mexico from the virus.

The most recent deaths are a woman in her 60s from Chaves County; a woman in her 80s from Doña Ana County; a man in his 80s from San Juan County; a man in his 70s from San Miguel County; and a man in his 70s from Taos County.

Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, secretary for the state Aging and Long Term Services Department, said her agency has hosted about 50 clinics that have given vaccines to more than 19,000 seniors and people with disabilities.

“We are now getting 5,000 to 6,000 vaccines allocated directly to our specialty population every week from the Department of Health,” she said.

Her department has also initiated a pilot program with Presbyterian Hospital to vaccinate Presbyterian’s homebound members, and there are plans to expand it to other managed care organizations. To date Aging and Long Term Services has vaccinated more than 1,000 homebound individuals, Hotrum-Lopez said.

The department has also been working with the UNM Community Health Division to coordinate transportation to vaccination sites for people who do not have transportation.

Greg Trapp, executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, said his agency has worked with the developers of the DOH’s vaccine website to make it more accessible for people who are blind or visually impaired.

The website can interface with a user’s speech reader program that turns written words on a web page into speech, allowing the user to navigate the website with a computer’s tab or arrow keys. Trapp also pushed to change the signature box on the day-of-vaccination medical questionnaire from an actual signature to a checkbox.

“New Mexico is one of the very few states with a vaccine information and registration website that have accessibility features built in to them so that people who are blind or visually impaired can interact and navigate,” using compatible technology on their home computers, Trapp said.

Nathan Gomme, executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said his agency has created and distributed 50 videos using American Sign Language and captioning to explain the red-to-green framework for classifying a county’s COVID risk, where to get shots and how the DOH’s online portal operates.

The DOH on Thursday also announced that New Mexicans registered at vaccineNM.org can now go to the website to self-schedule their booster shots. People who have had their first dose, either through the website or elsewhere, can log in, choose their location and then select from booster appointments available to them.

A new page on the site has been created to answer frequently asked questions about the vaccine, eligibility, registration and other health-related topics, and to offer testimonials about the vaccine from people around the state.

To access the page, go to vaccineNM.org/facts.

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