by Valerie Yingling
From the Editor: As a national representative, I repeat no telephone number more than the one that rings Valerie. She is friendly, thorough, and competent. We couldn’t have a better person to handle the many legal issues she does, and an added benefit is that she writes articles such as this one. Here is what she has to say about COVID testing:
NFB of Nebraska member Barbara Loos was pleased to learn recently that the Nebraska Health Department was developing a process to distribute at-home COVID-19 tests for school, business, or personal use. She was eager to offer her assistance when asked to trial the system and its accessibility features. But when the Health Department brought her an inaccessible Abbott Binax test and when the online proctor she engaged through Abbott’s NAVICA system disconnected their chat after Barbara explained that she was blind and that she did not have sighted in-home assistance to help her correctly place the solution drops on her test card, Barbara was less than pleased. She understood that her state’s health department and Abbott had failed to consider how blind people can access at-home COVID tests.
Barbara has been advocating to her state for accessible in-home COVID testing solutions since August 2020 and has documented the experience as her “Quest for a Test.”
Securing at-home COVID-19 tests that blind people can use privately and independently should not be a quest, neither should finding accessible instructions for these tests or connecting with adequate live-remote support for administering the tests. As our nation, states, and municipalities shift focus to at-home testing as a way to prevent transmission of COVID-19, blind people must be afforded equal access to these critical tests.
NFB has highlighted in this publication the work we’ve done at the national level to advocate for equal access to COVID tests. Through our advocacy we have connected with resources at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Administration for Community Living, among other agencies. We are providing feedback during listening sessions and training on blindness and the NFB for federal call center employees. Yet, there is still not a process in place for distributing accessible at-home tests to blind Americans.
Our path does not serve the singular goal of receiving equal access to federal services. The work we’ve done lays foundation for NFB affiliate and member advocacy in your town, school, county, or state for these potentially life-saving tests, and we urge you to reference the national organization’s work in your own advocacy.
At-home COVID-19 tests should be privately and independently usable by the blind. Tests that rely on the user visually interpreting the result, be it a colored line or some other mark, do not meet these criteria. The NFB has reviewed the majority of FDA-approved tests and determined that the following tests in their current format require visual interpretation and cannot be used independently by blind Americans:
The following two tests can be administered nonvisually, but they require a smartphone to upload and access test results:
If your local government is procuring tests for residents, you can urge officials to make these accessible tests available to blind individuals. Though these tests can be more expensive than the inaccessible versions, the costs would not constitute an undue burden.
Regardless of which test you use, if your local government makes available virtual or call center assistance for tests takers, then this service must be equally available to blind residents. Nonvisual instructions should be presented, and the representative should not demand that you locate sighted assistance to help you with the test.
The NFB has created a sample letter you can use or modify for your advocacy, available at https://nfb.org/resources/covid-19-resources/covid-19-home-test-information/template-letter-your-state-secretary. Please coordinate with your affiliate and chapter president if you intend to send a letter to your local government officials.
Advocacy takes time, and we know that the coronavirus does not wait. Should you need or want to take an at-home COVID-19 test before your local government or the federal government begins distributing accessible tests, there is support in place. The NFB has gathered resources at https://nfb.org/resources/covid-19-resources/covid-19-home-test-information and on NFB-NEWSLINE, including the contact information for the federal Disability Information and Assistance Line (DIAL), 888-677-1199 and [email protected], and information about Aira support for at-home COVID-19 test takers.