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The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Individuals with Developmental Disabilities in Ohio.

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. The care of your loved one with a developmental disability is no exception. The pandemic has severely limited the education and healthcare options available to individuals with developmental disabilities. In 2020, 74% of caregivers in the United States indicated that their child with a developmental disability was no longer receiving the same levels of educational and therapeutic services, with 56% reporting a switch to tele-education. Additionally, 36% lost access to a healthcare provider due to the pandemic (Jeste et al., 2020). Through all this change, it is important that individuals with developmental disabilities maintain their access to care, continue learning effectively, and maintain their mental health.

Thankfully, individuals with developmental disabilities do not have an increased risk of harm from COVID-19 if they do not have underlying health conditions. However, individuals living in care facilities may have an increased risk of exposure. Additionally, individuals living in care facilities may be isolated from family members or friends due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic is a stressful and isolating time for many. However, there are safe educational, healthcare, and transportation options for Ohio residents with developmental disabilities. There are also many resources available to support people with developmental disabilities and their families during the pandemic.

As far as educational experience, parents of children with special needs have a lot to think about during this time. The Ohio Department of Education recommends that parents and teachers work together to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to support the unique needs as well as the safety of their student. Depending on the child’s needs, this can include online learning, in-person learning, or a combination of both. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the University of Cincinnati, and Ohio Family to Family have worked together to develop a guide that can help you determine which options are best for your child. The guide contains a questionnaire for parents to work through, helping them make the decision to enroll their children in digital or in-person school. It includes thought-provoking questions about how to develop an IEP for your child as well as what sort of precautions you should have in place around COVID-19.

Additionally, Learning Aid Ohio offers supplemental learning support for students with disabilities during this time. You can apply for financial aid which can help you find, book, and pay for learning providers for your child. Learning Aid Ohio also is a great place to get started finding resources and educational providers for any student covered under an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This section specifies that schools cannot discriminate against disabled students. Any school that receives federal funds is subject to this law, whether the school is public or is private.

Also, the Ohio Department of Education, in their Reset and Restart program which guides Ohio school systems as classes are resumed during the COVID-19 pandemic, encourages schools to be flexible in order to meet the needs of students who receive special education services. Parental participation in determining the student’s educational plan is encouraged. According to the Reset and Restart program, the student’s Individualized Education Plan team will meet to determine the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for the student. The LRE could consist of an online, face-to-face, or blended learning environment. Many of these decisions depend on the plans of the individual school district as well as parental decisions.

In individual care facilities, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities is once again allowing social visits from family and friends to residents to boost their emotional wellness. The safety of individuals is still ensured to the greatest degree possible through the use of masks, diligent handwashing, and screening for symptoms. In addition, individuals are encouraged to visit in outdoor spaces or large rooms where social distancing is possible. In addition, care facilities have been permitted to resume outside activities with consent from the residents and/or their guardians. While vigilance remains high, the wellbeing of your loved one with developmental disabilities is being kept at the forefront.

The same is true of day centers which faced exposure risk issues during the start of the pandemic and continue to face them today. The CDC recommends that these facilities install plexiglass barriers, emphasize outdoor activities, and limit nonessential visitors. In addition, these facilities should stagger activities including meals and drop-offs to avoid excessive crowding. Of course, it is also best practice for everyone in the facilities to wear a mask that covers both their mouth and their nose. Also, the CDC recommends that individuals 65 years and older get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition, due to a higher risk of exposure in group settings, care facility services have been disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities recommend that Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) can help fill this gap. Services provided by DSPs, such as personal care, transportation, cooking, and cleaning, can be essential to the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. DSPs perform the important tasks of keeping individuals safe, clean, and healthy. Since those with disabilities receive this care in an individual setting, there is less risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Other options that the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities recommends to help fill service gaps due to COVID-19 are Remote Support and Assistive Technologies. These are ways to help individuals without being as intrusive. Remote Support can be as simple as getting groceries delivered, medications delivered, or engaging in real-time two-way communication with a support provider. It could also be more complex. Cameras can be mounted externally on houses to detect when an individual with disabilities leaves unexpectedly. Emergency buttons can be used to quickly call for help. Medication dispensers can even remind individuals to take their medications.

Ohio is a “technology first” state, meaning that it encourages individuals with disabilities to use assistive technologies as a first line of support instead of in-person care. There are many types of assistive devices which can help individuals maintain their independence while staying safe. Such devices can range from assistive glasses which describe new places to the wearer, to voice-activated reminder systems, to touch-screen tablets that show individuals easy recipes to cook. Additionally, such devices often provide quick access to in-person help if it is needed. Assistive technologies can be as straightforward as using induction stoves which cool quickly or temperature-limiting the shower. The WayFinder App, which helps individuals to travel safely, can also be a great way to help those with developmental disabilities increase their independence. The app uses GPS to give users step-by-step instructions to reach their destination. It also anticipates common areas of confusion, prompting users with helpful suggestions.

Programs such as the Ohio Telepsychiatry Project, and Project ECHO (Extension of Community Health Outcomes) for Multi-System Youth provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to get access to assistive technologies or remote support. Many lending libraries across Ohio will even let individuals try assistive technologies such as medical equipment or adaptive toys for free before they purchase equipment.

Another concern for individuals with developmental disabilities during the pandemic is safe transportation. Crowded public transportation could potentially increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Other stand-alone transportation service providers who transport multiple people can also be risky; multiple individuals in an enclosed space could still pose an additional risk of COVID-19 exposure. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation services were lacking for individuals with developmental disabilities in many areas. However, there are still safe transportation options available. Independent companies offer safe, individualized, non-medical transportation in which all individuals wear masks and follow other sanitization best practices. This helps individuals safely get groceries, go to school, go to work, or run other necessary errands.

All the changes and additional stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are a breeding ground for stress and anxiety. Remember the importance of prioritizing both your mental health and the mental health of your loved one with developmental disabilities. Encourage your loved one to take time to unwind as well as exercising and stretching their bodies. Help them keep a regular sleep schedule and regular meal schedule. Additionally, encourage them to speak up when they are feeling tense; communication is important for relieving stress. Lastly, make emergency care plans if you have not done so already. If you have, consider updating them with any new information.

Holding Hands Home Health Care is a certified agency provider for individuals with developmental disabilities in Ohio. Located in the northern part of Columbus, Ohio, we offer safe, individualized care services for your loved one. We can help them get where they need to go with our safe non-medical transportation services. We also provide excellent in-home care services to give your loved one the thoughtful attention they need. Our in-home care services also include medication administration by certified personnel. We are available for both daily and appointment-based care. Call us at (614)-368-2007 or e-mail us at for more information. You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Jeste, S., Hyde, C., Distefano, C., Halladay, A., Ray, S., Porath, M., Wilson, R. B., and Thurm, A. (2020). Changes in access to educational and healthcare services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities during COVID-19 restrictions. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 11(64). 10.1111/jir.12776

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