Disabled Advocates Say TestNebraska Not Accessible

June 1, 2020, 5:38 p.m. ·


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People with disabilities say they’re being overlooked in the TestNebraska testing program for COVID-19.

In a Zoom news conference sponsored by Nebraska state Sen. Carol Blood, advocates and people with disabilities said TestNebraska, and a similar program in Iowa, TestIowa, is not accessible. For one thing, they said, the test sites require people to drive through in order to be tested, when many people with disabilities don’t drive. Disabled advocate Dea Henke said the free-testing program had not lived up to its promise.

“The promise that TestNebraska would start to provide testing was good, until we found out that that doesn’t apply to people with disabilities who don’t drive,” Henke said.

Others said people who are not feeling well will be reluctant to ask someone to take them to a site, and that special vans to transport people with disabilities often don’t have windows that open to allow drive-through testing. Blood said those kind of obstacles are troubling.

“When I see that we have either intentionally or nonintentionally passed over our disabled or chronically ill residents here in Nebraska and Iowa for potential testing, I feel that we are making a statement that we do not believe that they have as much value as our residents without disabilities,” Blood said.

Blood is one of four senators who signed a letter last month urging the state to terminate its $27 million contract with a Utah-based firm that’s leading the TestNebraska effort. Some critics have also questioned the accuracy of the tests.

Given those criticisms, Blood was asked if it is truly a service to advocate making TestNebraska more accessible to people with disabilities. She said the point is that the program has to be accessible to all Nebraskans. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, another signer of the letter, elaborated on that.

“It’s not for me to decide whether or not someone with a disability gets access to a taxpayer funded testing program. I have concerns about the validity of the test, absolutely. I feel like that’s a separate topic entirely that I could talk about for hours,” Cavanaugh said.

Asked about the criticism, Gov. Pete Ricketts said the first priority had been to get the program up and running.

“What we needed to do is to continue to work on getting the system down for the regular customers, so to speak, if you want to think about it – the drive-up customers that the system was originally designed to serve. And we will be flexible with regard to how we’re serving other populations to be able to do that. So for example when we’re in different communities we’ll go to long-term care facilities and be able to do testing there,” Ricketts said.