The Year in Review

November 30, 2020

By Lisa Primm, DRT Executive Director

Publish Date November 30, 2020

At the risk of stating the obvious, COVID-19 has affected all of our lives in ways we never could have imagined. The loss of life and instability in our country has been devastating, and this has been especially true for people with disabilities. With every news story, with every personal connection to someone experiencing heartache and tragedy, my heart has broken over and over this year. I feel sure that you have all wept with me.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 13 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 265,000 have died from it. Of particular concern, people with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted, both in rates of infection and fatality. The scope of human tragedy is shocking, hard to comprehend, and with the confirmed COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, likely to become even worse.

And beyond the immediate human tragedy, there are also cultural and economic impacts of this pandemic, which disproportionately impact people with disabilities. From the impact of virtual schooling on students with IEPs and 504s, to high unemployment rates, to mental health impacts of isolation, people with disabilities are navigating even more challenges than in years past. The need for supports and services for Tennesseans with disabilities is higher than ever. At Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), we have seen a 20% increase in requests for assistance.

Throughout this year I have been beyond grateful for my DRT colleagues. Our team faced these unprecedented circumstances as one unit, in many ways as a family, devastated by the pain in our communities and in our own lives. But through this pain, our staff has remained committed to protecting the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. As an agency, we have expanded services for our clients, shifted the approach to our work in creative ways, and collaborated—virtually—in a highly effective fashion. Our work has been as broad as the needs of our community, from insisting on effective communication in media broadcasts to filing Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaints about care rationing. As individuals, our advocates and attorneys have supported each other through each loss while simultaneously developing innovative approaches to our work.

It is clearly an understatement to say that this year has been unlike any other and has left us all with scars that will not miraculously disappear. For many the loss is almost unbearable, and I hold you all in my heart. But parallel with that pain is my gratitude for the incredible community of people with disabilities, advocates, service providers and family who have not wavered in their commitment to equality, justice and inclusion. Together we are moving forward, holding each other up, and working towards a brighter future. I am forever grateful to be a part of this community.

As this year comes to a close, I am proud of the work of the DRT staff, board, volunteers, and supporters. I am deeply grateful for the work of frontline workers, medical staff, and service providers who have protected our communities. And I am hopeful that the year to come will provide an opportunity for healing.

In 2021 DRT will renew our commitment to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities by ensuring that our supports and services are responsive to the needs of our community. And whatever those needs may be in 2021, we will respond. My New Year’s wish for all of you is a future filled with peace, justice, and love.