In response to the impact of COVID-19 on the disability community, the New Jersey Disability Action Committee was formed to outline the obstacles impacting the disability community.

Working with the committee, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, D-Bergen, crafted a legislative package that she says addresses the needs of disabled residents amid COVID-19.

The legislation aims to ensure that the rights of those with disabilities are protected during a public health emergency. The package seeks to improve support services including securing insurance coverage for telemedicine services.

Among the nine bulls, one would establish a Commission on People with Disabilities, which would bring disabled people to the table to discuss their needs.

Another bill would transfer New Jersey Group for Access and Integration Needs in Emergencies and Disasters from the New Jersey Department of Human Services to the New Jersey State Police. It would revise membership requirements and require groups to be consulted on certain matters.

For the hearing impaired who often rely on the reading of lips, mask usage has left many without the means to properly communicate, said Vainieri-Huttle. So the proposed legislation would require the State Department of Health to establish standards for the manufacturing of clear masks.

There is also a bill that would require hospitals to collect and report demographic data on people with disabilities who are treated and tested for COVID-19. She thinks this would fully help the state understand the scope of COVID's impact on the disability community.

There's also a bill that would require long-term care facilities to submit reports regarding residents with disabilities.

"As we move forward and we go into telemedicine and telehealth, I think we require health benefit plans to provide expanded benefits not just during this COVID-19 emergency, but for the disability community, it's critical that we ensure access to health care always," Vainieri-Huttle said.

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