Advocating for Equal Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine

A person types on a laptop computer.

Making an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine has been challenging for people who are blind and visually impaired.

The number of fully vaccinated residents across Wisconsin is now 30 percent. Yet, substantial COVID-19 vaccine accessibility hurdles remain for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Registration accessibility remains a big issue. Also, non-drivers are facing problems securing transportation to vaccine appointments.

Through its transportation, accessibility and health care advocacy, the Council seeks to make vaccines available to people in Wisconsin who are blind and visually impaired.

Advocating for Better Website Access

Web Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM) is a nonprofit organization monitoring the accessibility of content online. It recently ran a check of the COVID-19 vaccine websites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Major accessibility issues were found and include general vaccine information, the list of providers, and registration forms. In at least seven states, including Wisconsin, people with blindness or low vision say they haven’t been able to register online for the vaccine without help.

The Council continues to advocate for better website access so all residents who are blind or have low vision can register and make an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Many of Wisconsin’s state websites, including the Department of Health Services (DHS), have varying compliance issues with the Americans with Disabilities (ADA). The ADA requires programs, services, and activities of state and local governments to be accessible to people with disabilities.

“Magnification software and screen readers work pretty well on these websites, but scheduling the actual appointment is like guess work,” Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess says. To schedule her own vaccine appointment, she ended up calling and talking with an organization on the phone.

Working Together to Reduce Barriers

Other Council staff members have had their own difficulties when trying to sign up for the vaccination wait list or for an appointment. Jim Denham encountered hurdles from the start, including when he was trying to prove he’s a person, and not a robot.

“There was an audio CAPTCHA that did not work well and was really difficult to use and there were no instructions,” Denham, an access technology specialist with the Council, says. “We are working very closely with DHS to make the website more usable and friendly for those who are blind or visually impaired.”

DHS officials are aware of the website access issues and say they are committed to making the vaccine as accessible as possible to everyone. State health officials just added a new toll-free phone number which is open for calls on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You can ask questions about the vaccine or get help registering for an appointment at 844-684-1064.

Overcoming Transportation Hurdles

Many people who are blind or visually impaired are also finding challenges when trying to get a ride to their vaccination appointment. A lack of transportation in some portions of the state is a major hurdle to healthcare equity and vaccine access.

Here are a few resources to find a ride:

  1. If you have Wisconsin Medicaid or BadgerCare Plus health coverage, you may be able to secure a ride to your appointment, tickets to ride the bus, or money to buy gas for your car. You can learn more about who is eligible and how to sign up by calling 866-907-1493.
  2. There are options for finding transportation across the state by using the 211 Wisconsin network. It is set up to connect you with services in your specific area, including transportation. It can be accessed 24 hours a day by calling 211 or 877-947-2211. You can also learn more and search for transportation options in your area on the 211 Wisconsin website.
  3. You can also find a few collaborative transportation resources:

Dane County is teaming up with New Bridge Madison, which works directly with cab and other ride services. If you are in Dane County, call 608-512-0000, extension 3, to reserve your free ride.

Winnebago, Outagamie, and Calumet Counties are providing rides through “Make the Ride Happen.” If you already have your vaccination appointment, call “Make the Ride Happen” at 920-225-1719. The phones are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for residents to schedule transportation.

Racine residents can get free bus rides to or from a vaccine appointment. Riders are simply being asked to tell the driver you are taking the bus to or from your vaccination site.

  1. Transportation options are also listed with the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) in your county. Learn more about getting a ride to your vaccination appointment on the ADRC website.
  2. The Wisconsin Association of Mobility Managers (WAMM) also helps people who cannot or do not drive get to vaccination appointments. These managers will have specific resources in your county and you can find who to contact on the WAMM website.

Accessible systems are critical to connect people who are blind or visually impaired to the COVID-19 vaccine. The Council continues to advocate for equitable access to the vaccine so all blind and visually impaired people across the state can get a shot.

Learn More

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is holding a regional vaccine equity roundtable discussion at 9 a.m. next Tuesday, May 11. You can join this community discussion on how the federal agency is working with other authorities to ensure that people with disabilities have vaccine access. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns. Register for the Zoom meeting or contact Amy Pifine for more information at Amy.Pifine@fema.dhs.gov.
  • Denise Jess discussed website access issues in-depth recently in an interview with PBS Wisconsin.
  • Jim Denham and Denise Jess talked about access to websites and vaccines on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Morning Show in March.

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