Cincinnati doctor, disability advocate to address Biden's COVID-19 equity task force

Posted at 5:37 PM, Mar 26, 2021

CINCINNATI — President Joe Biden's COVID-19 equity task force soon will get an earful from one Cincinnati doctor.

Dr. Kara Ayers holds a Ph.D. and works with Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center running its national Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities. Her affiliation with the national organization prompted the White House's invitation to speak at Friday's virtual meeting, but that's not the only stake she has in the conversation.

For Ayers, it's also personal.

"I've definitely had sleepless nights worried about the future of our family and health during this pandemic," she said. Ayers doesn't just run the CDHPD; she and her husband live with bone- and lung-weakening conditions that have them both in wheelchairs.

Dr. Kara Ayers poses with her husband and children in this undated photograph.

She said they see a clear bias against people living with disabilities when it comes to getting access to the vaccine.

"The largest problem has just been a lack of consideration of disability-related needs," she said. "We hear about some of these mass (vaccination) sites which are a great way to vaccinate a lot of people at once, but for somebody maybe with autism or with sensory issues that loud, huge, crowded space in itself could be a huge deterrent."

She also pointed to features of vaccination-registration web sites: Many sites, she said, are not easily accessible by people with visual impairments, and, to her and the people her organization represents, it makes them feel expendable.

"I've heard from many voices who have just said, 'I don't feel like I'm seen as worthy.' If something as small as my ability to use the website is not considered, then what does that tell me about policy-makers remembering me?" she said.

The best-case scenario for some, she said, is a delay in receiving their vaccination. Sometimes, the consequences could be even more dire.

"We have real concerns about people who are still waiting or have encountered these barriers and can't seem to get through," she said.

Ultimately, Ayers worries how trying to navigate the process of signing up for the vaccine could lead people with disabilities down a road of despair.

"To feel forgotten is to feel devalued," she said. "I myself know of the wealth of benefits that our disability community bring to every community, family, school, place of employment that they are present within, and I wish more people could see that value."

Ayers was scheduled to speak to Biden's task force Friday afternoon, but that hearing was postponed.