In Quest for COVID Vaccine, Disabled NH Residents Say They Face Extra Hurdles

People with disabilities are reporting issues with communication in New Hampshire's coronavirus vaccine rollout

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People with disabilities in New Hampshire say they're facing additional roadblocks when it comes to booking their coronavirus vaccine appointments or getting their shots.

After waiting in line for more than two hours to get her COVID-19 vaccine, Susan Wolf-Downes then struggled to communicate with the national guardsman administering her shot.

"Here we go again, another explanation, another trying to be understood, and lip-reading someone else," said Wolf-Downes through an interpreter on Thursday.

Because she's hearing-impaired, the guardsman handed her a cellphone to connect to a video interpreter, but that connection was bad.

"I was looking at interpreter's face, and it seemed she didn't see anything," Wolf-Downes said. "There was no reaction, no response from them."

Thankfully, her daughter was available via video call and helped her though the appointment.

But the challenges for those with disabilities don't end there.

Deanna O'Brien is blind and says the federal VAMS website isn't compatible with most screen reading software.

"I think this is a major problem," she said. "There are places on the website that call for clicking with a mouse, a blind person cannot do that."

She feels lucky that she has a husband who could sign her up and who will drive her to her upcoming appointment.

"The assumption that everyone has a sighted person to be there to do it for them is an incorrect assumption," O'Brien said.

That is a big part of the reason Sen. Maggie Hassan sent a letter to the administration of President Joe Biden.

She's calling for a more equitable vaccine rollout and additional mobile vaccine operations to bring shots to those living with disabilities.

"For them to be prioritized and then to have a difficult time making appointments or getting the vaccine is unacceptable at many, many levels," Hassan said Thursday.

Wolf-Downes and O'Brien say any inaccessibility is unacceptable.

"Otherwise we get left behind and fall through the cracks," O'Brien said.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services sent a statement saying that there was only one reported failure with the video interpretation system, and that the department will always make an interpreter available on site by request.

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