Kiley McLean is a social work doctoral student at UW-Madison and a Waisman Center LEND trainee. She has worked with individuals with disabilities for over 15 years and is currently a Special Olympics coach at the East Madison YMCA. Twitter: @kileymclean10, my center is @uwwaismancenter.

One in four U.S. adults, 61 million adults, have a diagnosed disability. Because the long-term effects of the coronavirus have yet to be determined, this number is likely to increase. According to the CDC, people most susceptible to COVID-19 are those with underlying chronic health conditions. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely than adults without disabilities to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer.

Even without the threat of the coronavirus, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are much higher than those without disabilities. Despite the fact people with disabilities make up approximately 12% of the U.S. working-age population, they account for more than half of those living in long-term poverty. They are more likely to work low-wage, part-time jobs, that do not offer sick or paid leave.

Many people with disabilities reside in residential facilities or group homes and rely on direct support professionals for assistance with daily living activities including bathing, changing and eating. The necessary, and often intimate, personal care provided by these staff members are nearly impossible given social distancing requirements. Positive coronavirus cases have been found in these homes and spread rapidly.

People with disabilities are contracting coronavirus at rapid rates, they are losing wages and living in poverty, they are isolated from their support staff and friends, and in many states, they are being denied ventilators on the basis of their disability. Treatment rationing plans have been proposed in other states that discriminate against people with disabilities and violate federal disability rights laws.

In the next coronavirus relief package, we must advocate for specific funding for direct support professionals that support people with disabilities, sick and paid leave for those caring for their loves ones with disabilities, specified funding for Medicaid home and community-based services, stimulus payments to all people with disabilities, and dedication to nondiscriminatory practices in health care. We cannot leave this community behind. #WeAreEssential