Javier Robles, a teaching instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health and director of the Center for Disability Sports, Health and Wellness, initiated a committee last spring to take action against the injustices faced by the disabled community throughout the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to an article from Rutgers Today.
Robles, who is quadriplegic himself, said that seeing the disproportionate effect the pandemic has had on people with disabilities motivated him to create the committee, according to the article.
The New Jersey COVID-19 Disability Action Committee, which was formed alongside Rutgers alumna Rose Greenblatt, consists of a statewide panel of individuals including people with disabilities, support professionals, caregivers and relatives, according to the article.
Once formed, the committee worked together throughout last summer to conduct research and develop a 98-page initial report, highlighting what the state can do better in terms of caring for its disabled population during public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report included a number of components addressing disparities and calling for change, including a section devoted to unjust medical practices in New Jersey throughout the pandemic. There are also multiple sections of recommendations and letters from individuals and organizations involved in the project.
“We absolutely need a state-level commission that is created through legislation and has some real power,” Robles said, according to the article. “One of the really upsetting things during the pandemic was seeing hospital administrators and doctors making life and death decisions for people with disabilities.”
One instance of this behavior that the committee is fighting is the implementation of Do Not Attempt Resuscitation Orders that occurred in certain hospitals, according to the report.
These orders aimed to reduce transmission risks associated with life-saving procedures for patients who have stopped breathing, but they failed to recognize that people with disabilities were often alone and unable to make these decisions for themselves.
Additionally, the committee is seeking to make recommendations in other areas, such as emergency preparedness, accessible communication and long-term care facilities.
Some specific structural goals include making certain that people with disabilities and their families are fully represented throughout the state, developing a structure in the New Jersey government that raises the voices of people with disabilities and requiring that the Department of Health appoint people with disabilities and family members in order to provide recommendations.
Overall, the committee aims to work with the governor, legislators and other officials going forward in order to provide them with their perspective and to ensure that legislation accounts for the needs of all New Jersey citizens, according to the report.
“This isn’t something where I can just sit back and say maybe things will get better,” Robles said, according to the article.