H1N1 (Swine Flu) information for people with disabilities

February 23, 2010

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency for H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu, on April 26, 2009. Since then, many organizations and agencies have issued recommendations about preventing the spread of the illness and what to do in the event of a localized outbreak. Cases of H1N1 are now widespread. Employers, businesses, schools, hospitals and congregate care facilities are establishing their own procedures on how to prevent an H1N1 outbreak in their environments, and how to respond if an outbreak happens.

People with Disabilities and the Flu

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that having a disability alone may not place someone at higher risk for complications from the H1N1 virus, but other factors may put a person with disabilities at higher risk, such as people who have difficulty breathing, weakened immune systems, chronic conditions and more. Read more on the Flu.gov Web site: Disabilities and the Flu

In February 2010, Disability Scoop reported on an article that appeared in USA Today stating that the Effects Of H1N1 Flu Persist In Hard Hit Children With Disabilities.

School Closing Procedures

The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued a Question and Answer document to provide guidance on the provision of special education and related services and early intervention services following child dismissal or school/program closure due to an H1N1 outbreak. This document was written for states, state educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), BIE-funded schools, state lead agencies, and early intervention service (EIS) programs and providers.

In the document, OSERS acknowledged that H1N1 has "the potential to pose a serious risk to children, especially those with certain underlying conditions making them more susceptible to the flu" and that districts may find it necessary to exclude some children from school, including those receiving special education and related services. The question of when a change of placement occurs and the procedural protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) depends on the length of exclusion, according to the document. Generally, exclusions lasting more than 10 consecutive school days will require the school district to consider a continuum of alternative placements.

For more information: U.S. Department of Education - H1N1 Flu Information

Employment Discrimination Due to Flu

In order to prevent and respond to the H1N1 flu, some precautions and restrictions may be necessary. However, it is important that people with disabilities are not unnecessarily restricted or segregated if prevention or response plans are discriminatory or otherwise harmful.

As with any public health emergency, people with disabilities may face discrimination, or problems with accessibility, reasonable accommodations or unnecessary quarantines. Based on their disability, people may be denied access to daycare, schools, jobs and places in the community. In a serious public health emergency, people may be told to "shelter in place," meaning everyone will be expected to stay at home for some period of time. If this happens, people with disabilities may have problems getting medications and health care, or finding transportation in a personal emergency.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides information about Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and pandemic planning in the workplace: Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act

If you experience discrimination or other violation of your rights based on your disability, you can contact the LRS Intake Unit. Intake hours are weekdays (except holidays) from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Legal Rights Service
50 West Broad Street, Suite 1400
Columbus, Ohio 43215-5923
Phone: 614-466-7264 or 1-800-282-9181 (toll-free in Ohio only)
TTY: 614-728-2553 or 1-800-858-3542

Emergency Preparedness

It is important for everyone to make a Personal Emergency Plan before an emergency or disaster happens. It is equally important to update your plan and practice what you will do in an emergency. Some people with disabilities have needs that should be part of a Personal Emergency Plan, for example, if electricity is off and adaptive equipment will not work, if reasonable accommodations are needed, or if the needs of a service animal must also be part of a plan. Read about Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities and how to develop a plan.