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HHS Issues Legal Guidance to Protect Access to Vaccines for People with Disabilities

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HHS Issues Legal Guidance to Protect Access to Vaccines for People with Disabilities

Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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As announced by the Department of Health and Human Services:

“As part of a shared commitment to President Biden's National Strategy and Executive Order to ensure an equitable COVID-19 response, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the Administration for Community Living (ACL), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have published several new resources to help states, vaccination providers, and others leading COVID-19 response activities improve access to vaccines for people with disabilities and older adults. These resources clarify legal requirements, illustrate some of the barriers to vaccine access faced by people with disabilities and older people, and provide strategies – and examples of how the aging and disability network can help employ them – to ensure accessibility.

The Office for Civil Rights released new guidance* outlining legal standards under the federal civil rights laws prohibiting disability discrimination and providing concrete examples of the application of the legal standards in the context of COVID-19 vaccine programs and how to implement them. OCR also issued a fact sheet* setting out specific steps that those involved in the planning and distribution of vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic may wish to consider to promote compliance with disability rights laws and provide access to vaccination programs for people with disabilities. Earlier COVID-19 guidance from OCR addressed civil rights protections prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, and civil rights of persons with limited English proficiency.

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‘Throughout the pandemic, the Office for Civil Rights has made clear that civil rights laws remain in effect during emergencies,’ said Acting OCR Director Robinsue Frohboese. ‘These long-standing laws require that people with disabilities have equal access to services funded by HHS and today's guidance, along with other important resources from our HHS partners, will help providers ensure compliance with their obligations to make vaccinations fully accessible at every step in the process – from public education to registration for appointments and vaccine administration.’

The Administration for Community Living has compiled strategies and best practices for helping people with disabilities and older adults access COVID-19 vaccines. This compendium provides creative approaches to outreach and education, appointment facilitation, ensuring website and vaccination site accessibility, and reaching people who cannot be vaccinated outside of their homes. Also included are examples of how the aging and disability network have collaborated with state agencies at virtually every stage of the vaccination process to ensure access for people with disabilities and older adults.”