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Arizona Parents Of Kids With Disabilities Plead For COVID-19 Vaccine

Disability rights groups and advocates are calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to prioritize people with disabilities and their caregivers in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Parents of children with disabilities are pleading their case to the governor.

Michele Thorne is the founder of DAMES, or Differently Abled Mothers Empowerment Society. She’s also the mother to two children who were diagnosed with autism. 

"There is a chink in the armor around our children," she said. "And it is us. Us parents, we are making our children vulnerable. Not vaccinating the parents leaves our children at risk."

That’s because many parents can’t get the vaccine yet. The current plan bases eligibility on age and occupation. 

→  Q&AZ: What You Need To Know About Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine In Arizona

Thorne was joined by other disability advocates at the virtual press conference, which was hosted by the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

Louise Bowden is the executive director of the Down Syndrome Network. She spoke on behalf of her 23-year-old son who has Down syndrome and is nonverbal.

"Adults with down syndrome experienced accelerated aging, meaning that in their 40s they experience certain conditions that are more commonly seen in elderly adults in the general population," she explained. "It only makes sense that people with Down syndrome received the vaccine now."

There are also accessibility issues to consider. Transportation is a big one. Calvin Cook has a disability. He is also an advocate. 

He says it's unfortunate that the vaccine is inaccessible for many in the disability community. 

"I was using public transportation as my primary source prior to the pandemic," he said. "And now I've been terrified to use public transportation."

Yet, the state's largest vaccine sites require a vehicle to access the vaccine. 

Another concern is communication, especially for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Sherri Collins is the executive director for the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. She says 1.1 million Arizonans are deaf and hard of hearing or deaf/blind

"So you can just imagine communication barriers are like when wearing a mask. We can't read lips. We can't communicate," said Collins.

She says that's a concern when talking about access to information when it comes to the vaccine. 

Advocates are calling on Ducey to immediately prioritize this population and provide any accommodations at vaccine sites. 

→  Get The Latest News On COVID-19 In Arizona 

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.