By Danielle McCann
When I found out that I’d been exposed to COVID-19, I was worried, but once I started trying to get tested, I was floored by the responses I got back. Either I was endlessly on hold, only to have my call disconnected, or I was continuously directed to inaccessible websites to check appointment availability. I finally found that a national chain had drive-up locations in my area, so I thought I’d call to let them know that I’m blind and would be walking through for my appointment. This is where it all changed.
The first person I spoke to simply told me to go elsewhere because they didn’t serve blind people. I immediately went to social media and tagged the chain in posts expressing my shock at being dismissed like that.
While my posts garnered a call from the regional manager, it proved fruitless. Every time he said that walking through a drive through was a safety concern, I countered with “sir, with all due respect, it’s up to me to decide what my health and safety priorities and concerns are.” He suggested a rideshare; I asked if it was fair to potentially expose a driver, and what about the cost of that trip? I could have covered the ride but not everyone can afford that expense. He mentioned that it was against their safety policy for the company to allow me to walk through a line of vehicles. I asked about changing the policy. He said that there would be a walk-up location available within the next few months, but I refused to wait that long – in a couple months of waiting, I could expose so many people, or face health complications from the virus going undiagnosed and unaddressed. He finally called me back three days later and said that he could “probably” make an exception for me; I declined because that wouldn’t fix the root issue, the systemic allowances that enabled the company to not accommodate my disability, and to think it was okay to do that. During our third conversation, he said that he understood my frustration. I simply said “No, you don’t. Because at the end of the day, you can drive up and get tested with ease while I, and everyone else who doesn’t have access to a vehicle, cannot.” He promised a future call back that has yet to happen.
While I am comfortable advocating for myself in all types of situations, this was something new. I’d dealt with barriers in school, with my guide dog, at work, and in other instances. However, up till now, I’d been fortunate in only having to gently explain my needs in a health care setting to have a positive outcome. The brushoffs coupled with the constantly changing rules of COVID-related interactions were uncharted territory; my successful navigation of which could literally could mean life or death for me and countless others.
Self advocacy tips
I used these strategies to get what I needed.
1. Stay calm.
As emotional as you might feel, approach the situation calmly and with patience. It is so important to advocate with a level head so you can provide helpful information and lay out your concerns clearly. I was angry and frustrated, but yelling wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere, so I stayed calm and explained my situation as many times as were necessary.
2. It is ALWAYS the right time to advocate.
I’ll say it again: It is ALWAYS the right time to advocate. Throughout my search for a testing site, I was brushed off more than once. It seemed like at every turn, the people I talked to were dismissive of my urgency to get tested because I needed accommodations. I made sure to explain why the process that works for most doesn’t work for us all. I hit dead ends a majority of the time, but I didn’t let them turn me away without trying to make them understand why accessibility matters.
3. Make a Plan B in case your first plan falls through or is indefinitely delayed.
While I was going back-and-forth with the chain pharmacy, I continued my research into other facilities. Thankfully, I was able to make an appointment which was several days out with a hospital so I knew that if I didn’t get anywhere with Plan A, I would have a backup solution. While booking this appointment, I noted that I would need a walk-up accommodation because I’m blind and asked that they call me if I needed to follow a different protocol than what was listed online.
4. Then make a Plan C, Plan D, Plan E…
In addition to the appointment at the hospital (which is not within walking distance) I got a couple of offers from friends/family who felt comfortable enough to drive me through the line. I told them I’d let them know if I needed them but kept on searching for another way. Also, in the back of my mind, was the rideshare option.
5. Speak honestly about your needs.
If you need electronic versions of registration forms, a sighted guide, interpreter, or other accommodations, let them know and keep reminding them. In addition to making them aware of my needs while registering, I reminded them when they called to confirm my appointment. As we all know, in hectic times, miscommunications can happen.
In the end, I got my test using the best combination of resources that worked for me. Thankfully, it was negative, and though it wasn’t a smooth experience, it was a good reminder for me to keep educating others and using my voice to speak up for equal access. Life is not one-size-fits-all, and until there is space for everyone, we, as a proud disabled community, need to keep pushing for it no matter how long it takes.
About the author:
Danielle McCann is a proud blind Latinx living in the suburbs of Milwaukee with her husband and their three dogs. When she’s not working as a customer service manager, she is crocheting, teaching crochet, creating content for her social media platforms that is crochet-related, or buying yarn for more crocheting. Follow her on Instagram at @DMadeCrochet or on her YouTube channel, DMade Crochet.
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