Individuals with developmental disabilities face unique challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials at the Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities (ACBDD).
All of the ACBDD’s buildings have been closed to the public since early March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and most of the organization’s programming has been put on pause. ACBDD superintendent Kevin Davis noted his staff has been adapting to the current circumstances.
Overall, people with developmental disabilities have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Davis said. Both the lack of programming and the lack of face-to-face interaction have been stressors for those individuals and their loved ones, Davis said.
“It’s not the same when your case manager checks in with you virtually,” he said. Home visits have ceased in order to protect the health of the individuals the Board serves, as many people with developmental disabilities have compromised immune systems, Davis said.
After Ohio’s stay-at-home order was signed into action, many area businesses had to close their doors, resulting in the layoffs and furloughs of many. This loss of income is, of course, another stressor for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, Davis said.
In response to this, the ACBDD has set up a grant program for their clients impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals and families who can identify a COVID-19 impact they are facing can apply for the grant, which provides up to $300. The ACBDD is deciding on a much larger grant, awarding up to $20,000 to individuals, in the coming weeks.
In addition, the PersonnelPlus job division of the ACBDD continues to connect clients in need of work with area employers who remain open during the pandemic.
“Everyone’s worlds have changed dramatically,” Davis said. “We’re trying to assist in any way we can.”
ACBDD facilities are gearing up for the day they’ll be able to open their doors to the public again, Davis said. The Board is looking at a tentative “soft reopening” date of July 6, and its buildings will continue to be closed until that time.
Supt. Davis noted the soft reopening is motivated by three factors: to start, the Board wants to ensure the health and safety of its workers. Employees will work on “staggered schedules” in their buildings: not everyone will be working at once to bring down the number of occupants in a Board building. Board employees will also be screened as they walk into the building every day.
Second, Davis said that personal protection equipment (PPE) is limited, and each employee of the Board and service providers must be properly protected with face coverings and other forms of PPE.
The final reason is the one Davis said carries the most weight: extra safety measures must be in place to protect the health of the population served. Davis said the Board will likely go further than state guidelines for safety during the pandemic.
Each division of the ACBDD will forward plans for reopening to the Board’s safety committee, which will be the “central clearing house” for reopening procedure approval, Davis noted, with a deadline of June 1.
The exception to this deadline is Beacon School, located on West Union Street. This division of the ACBDD is tailored toward students aged 6 to 21, and it focuses on building social, pre-vocational, academic, motor and other life skills.
Davis said that because direction about 2020-2021 school procedures have yet to be passed down from the state, it’s difficult to make plans for how Beacon will operate come fall.
One of three scenarios could occur, however: school may be back in session as it was last fall; school may have in-class sessions, but with staggered schedules; or finally, Beacon School could opt for remote learning.
Davis said it’s difficult for any educational institution to maintain academic integrity remotely, but DD-specific schools face additional challenges. Students struggle to physically distance from one another during the school day and while using school transportation. In addition, some students who attend Beacon Schools may have difficulties going about their days if they are required to wear face masks.
The Board has a committee that is planning ways to boost at-home support if Beacon must follow an at-home learning mode this fall, Davis said. Although this option isn’t ideal, the ACBDD isn’t a stranger to remote learning. All of Ohio’s K-12 schools, public and private, were mandated to close in March, and Beacon implemented at-home learning procedures.
Board officials, in partnership with the Athens County 4-H program, have also been planning a virtual summer camp for students. The virtual camp, slated for June 8 to July 2, will include reading activities and hands-on learning projects. For example, Davis noted one week students will not only be given a book, but also they’ll receive a tree of their very own to plant. This online opportunity is taking the place of Beacon’s usual summer camp, which was canceled this year because of the pandemic. The camp was typically hosted in conjunction with Kids on Campus.
Certain services of the ACBDD are continuing during the pandemic. The Board has continued free breakfast and lunch deliveries for its students between the date that school ended, May 26, and the date that summer camp is expected to end, July 2.