COVID-19 (Coronavirus) & Disability Rights

During the COVID-19 public health crisis, people with disabilities still have the right to live, work, and access our community free from discrimination. Disability Rights Oregon has been hard at work promoting and defending these rights.

Updated: July 1, 2020

Know Your Legal Rights during the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis

DRO Resources: Know Your Rights

Disability Rights Oregon Can Help You if:

  • You have questions about your legal rights during an outbreak.
  • Are seeing information that is not accessible from other agencies.
  • Feel you are experiencing an extra layer of disability discrimination during this time.
  • Being denied healthcare because you are a person with a disability.

We can talk to you about your questions, determine how we can help, and get you the information that you need.

For assistance, please contact the Disability Rights Oregon confidential intake line at 503-243-2081 or 1-800-452-1694 between 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  or 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Write Us a Letter

Write to us. Our address is:
Disability Rights Oregon
511 SW 10th Avenue, Suite 200
Portland, Oregon 97205

COVID-19 & Your Right to Medical Treatment

You cannot be treated differently because of your disability.

  • You have the right to get the treatment that you need.
  • You can go to a doctor, a clinic, or a hospital just like anybody else.
  • No one can treat you differently just because you have a disability.
  • Hospitals and clinics must provide you the medical treatment that you need.
  • Read Oregon Health Authority’s Guidance on Non-Discrimination in Medical Treatment for COVID-19.

You cannot be denied a ventilator just because you have a disability.

  • You have a right to the same access to a ventilator as people without disabilities.
  • No one can deny you a ventilator or other emergency care just because of your disability.
  • To decide if you need a ventilator, a doctor must look at your unique medical needs.

You have a right to good communication.

  • If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you have the right to ask for an ASL interpreter or CART. You can get papers in Braille, large print or in a computer file.
  • You have the right to a communication device like sound boards or pages of pictures you can use.
  • You can get information in simple words. Ask hospital or clinic staff to:
    • Talk slowly and clearly.
    • Use short simple sentences.
    • Have only one idea or question in a sentence.
    • Use hand gestures and facial expressions to give visual clues about the meaning of what you are saying.
    • Some people with learning disabilities do not read or find it hard to understand when you explain things that are only in words. Pictures can help get your message across.
    • If you communicate with pictures or written words, this Hospital Communication Book may be useful.

You have a right to information.

  • When you talk with your doctor, the doctor should tell you all the different options to treat you while you are sick.
  • The doctor should tell you what the good and bad parts of each choice are.
  • You can ask the doctor any questions you may have. These are very important decisions.
  • No one should rush you or try to make you pick what they want. This is your decision.

You can bring a family member or other helper with you unless they are also sick.

You get to decide what medical care you get.

  • It is a good idea to write down your wishes before you get sick. Hospitals have to follow your wishes that you put into forms.
  • Advance directives” are good forms to fill out if you want to choose a person to make health care decisions for you if you become too sick to speak for yourself.
  • You can fill out a Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) so that any hospital in Oregon has access to your wishes.

You have the right to ask family members or friends to help you make decisions.

  • Some people have a guardian, family, friend, or a person who’s been appointed their power of attorney help them make healthcare decisions.
  • Talk with people you trust before you get sick.
  • It is also important to also talk about what you don’t want.

If you have a guardian, you still have the right to help make medical decisions.

  • A guardian may have the ability to make final decisions about your healthcare. Your guardian must ask what your wishes and preferences are.
  • Your guardian must ask a judge for permission before moving you to a nursing home or other place where people live while they get treatment. You can also tell a judge where you want to live.

You can ask for hospitals, doctors, or clients to change their policies to accommodate your disability.

  • You can fill out an accommodations request form to bring with you to the hospital. Show the form to everyone and make sure a copy is put in your medical chart.

If you have concerns about these rights, please call DRO for help at 503-243-2081 and ask to schedule an intake appointment.

Anti-Discrimination: Do my legal rights change?

No, your legal rights do not change. Although the situation is changing quickly, you still have the right to live, work, go to the doctor, and access your community free of discrimination based on your disability. This means that information should be distributed in an accessible format, and that you have the right to request reasonable accommodations to have equal access to public places or services.

Equal Access to Care: Can I be denied medical care because I’m a person with a disability?

No, you may not be discriminated against because of your disability. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enforces the federal law (Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act), which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in federally funded services. These laws, like other civil rights laws, remain in full effect. This means that persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities. Medical decisions should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient based on the best available objective medical evidence.

If you re being denied COVID-19 related healthcare because you are a person with a disability, please contact Disability Rights Oregon.

Effective Communication Access in Hospitals: I’m Deaf or hard of hearing, how will I be able to communicate with healthcare providers?

The National Association of the Deaf created the guide COVID-19: Medical Communication Access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing to help you prepare in the event you need to go to the hospital. You can also watch the video in ASL.


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