Faced With Inaccessible Systems, SF's LightHouse Launches Vaccine Pop-Up for Disability Community

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woman getting COVID vaccine dose shot in the arm
A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccination. LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is now providing weekly pop-up vaccination clinics at their San Francisco headquarters. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Finding a COVID-19 vaccine appointment near you in the Bay Area has been a challenging road for months now. And many disabled people are finding that both physical and online inaccessibility is putting up even more roadblocks between them and the vaccine.

As part of a community-led effort to connect disabled Californians with vaccine appointments, San Francisco nonprofit LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is now providing fully accessible pop-up vaccination clinics at their San Francisco headquarters each Friday until May 7.

These weekly clinics offer the COVID-19 vaccine by appointment to all members of the blind, low vision, extended disability community and their caregivers.

"We're super happy that the city of San Francisco worked with us so that our site is available to all people with disabilities in the Bay Area and their assistants," LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin told KQED's Brian Watt this week. Bashin said LightHouse is offering around 200 vaccine doses at each of these Friday pop-up clinics.

LightHouse's Friday vaccination clinic at 1155 Market St. in San Francisco is open by appointment only. To make an appointment, call 628-652-2700. You'll speak to a member of San Francisco's city vaccination call center who will ask for some basic personal information and your health care provider details, and give you more accessibility details about the appointment process and what to expect at the pop-up clinic.

LightHouse's appointment line is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. If you need to call outside those hours, you can leave a voicemail message to request a callback. This line is available in both Spanish and English, and LightHouse says that interpreters for other languages can be made available when you leave a voicemail requesting a callback. More information about LightHouse's vaccination clinic.

Remember: When it's your time to get vaccinated, your COVID-19 vaccine will be free. You do not need health insurance to be vaccinated. You also will not be asked for proof of citizenship.

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'A Moving Target'

The state's vaccination rollout has not offered the full accessibility that many disabled Californians need. CEO Bashin said that LightHouse was spurred to offer these weekly pop-up vaccinations by the challenges many in the disability community were reporting around using the California Department of Public Health's vaccine appointment tool, My Turn.

My Turn, said Bashin, "has been a moving target" — due a combination of scarce appointment availability and the inaccessible elements of the state's site itself.

On his own experience using My Turn to find a vaccine, Bashin said that he "personally faced situations where I was notified that there were vaccines, and then watched as I struggled with the app and the website to try to get an appointment — only to find that those appointments disappeared because of the inaccessibility of some of those first websites."

"Things like, 'Take a picture of the front and back of your health insurance card,' " noted Bashin. "A beautiful exercise to do if you can't see."

Some of these kinds of elements have been improved, said Bashin, calling My Turn "now very much better than what it had been."

Bashin said there's also the issue of physical vaccination sites themselves. "Frankly, some of the major vaccination sites like the [Oakland] Coliseum or [San Francisco's] Moscone Center are giant million-square-feet behemoths. Great if you can drive in," said Bashin.

"But if you're a person who doesn't drive, like the 40,000 blind and visually impaired people in the Bay Area, or people with other disabilities, perhaps we want to offer a more convenient way for people to get in, get out, and get their vaccine accessibly."

The city of San Francisco is offering a call center for people with disabilities who are unable to easily access the internet or schedule a vaccine appointment through their provider: call them at (628) 652-2700.

If you're experiencing issues using My Turn, you can call the California COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255 (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.-5 p.m PT) and sign up over the phone. Both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking operators are available. Callers needing information in other languages will be connected to translation service that offers 254 other languages.

A Stop-Start Vaccine Rollout for Disabled People

As of March 15, the state opened COVID-19 vaccination up to people ages 16-64 who have certain disabilities or health conditions that put them at "the very highest risk" from the coronavirus. See the list of eligible disabilities and conditions.

Some counties and health providers have chosen to expand on the state's list. San Francisco has a longer list of eligible conditions and disabilities, and Kaiser Permanente has also included more health conditions and disabilities in its own list.

If you are eligible for vaccination because of your disability or your health condition, the state says that you won't be asked to provide any verification documentation of the diagnosis or type of disability you have, to protect patient confidentiality. Instead, you'll be asked to sign a self-attestation that you meet the criteria laid out by the state.

The extension of vaccine eligibility to disabled people and those with health conditions was a hard-fought battle.

In late January, California announced that after vaccinating people in Phase 1A, the state would shift away from the phase-based system it had planned in favor of a system that would be primarily age based.

Those now-obsolete subsequent phases included people ages 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions or disabilities, as well as many essential workers. The decision swiftly led to an outcry from disability advocates – among them writer and activist Alice Wong, who sparked the Twitter hashtag #HighRiskCA and encouraged other disabled people to share their fears about the state's move.

"I don't understand the science and logic behind this decision, and I don't understand why people do not see us and value us," Wong said at the time.

Wong was one of those advocates who eventually pushed the state to reverse its decision, and people ages 16-64 with certain disabilities or health conditions were deemed eligible once more for vaccination as of March 15.

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