In direct response to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and fearing the social isolation created by lockdowns, our organization quickly responded by hosting a series of virtual Disability Community Gatherings to create safe, online, social space for people with disabilities. While all the gatherings were open to anyone, each one had a specific focus on particular affinity groups within the broader spectrum of the disability experience. For example, we hosted specific dialogues for:
People with Developmental Disabilities: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/gathering-developmental/
Women with Disabilities: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/women-disabilities-covid-gathering/
Jews with Disabilities: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/gathering-jews/
Californians with Disabilities: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/gathering-californians/
Millennials and Gen Z-ers with Disabilities: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/gathering-millennials/
Low-Vision and Blind Individuals: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/gathering-blind-low-vision/
By listening to these dialogues, we identified both common threads of experiences, but also a critical and immediate advocacy priority. We found that many of the dialogue participants were struggling to safe access groceries due to either trouble maintaining social distancing or out of fear of exposure to the virus in order to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in-person at a grocery store. Nationwide, 11 million Americans with disabilities depend on SNAP to put food on their tables. When the pandemic hit, they were suddenly forced to choose between feeding their families and being exposed to a deadly virus.
The staff at RespectAbility quickly launched the #SNAPDeliverySavesLives campaign in late April. Since then, they have reached out to every state, actively encouraging SNAP directors, governors, and the federal government to quickly enable people with disabilities to use their benefits online. They have tracked states' progress as they applied for the USDA waivers. Their work was joined by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and numerous governors and senators.
Prior to the pandemic, just six states allowed SNAP users to order food online for delivery. Now, according to statement released by USDA last may: "In less than six weeks, amidst an unprecedented situation, USDA has expanded SNAP online purchasing to 36 states and the District of Columbia – nearly three-quarters of the states, covering 90% of SNAP households."
By the end of Summer 2020, 47 of the 50 states now offer online grocery delivery for SNAP beneficiaries.
The lesson here is that creating opportunities for those most directly impacted by policies and circumstances to share their views can drive a successful advocacy agenda forward. As such, virtual dialogues such as this forum are crucial tools that need to be leveraged wherever possible to collect, capture, and convert into action key policy changes.