A Whole Community Approach: The Office of Access and Functional Needs Responds to Covid-19

The United States confirmed their first case of coronavirus (Covid-19) on January 21, 2020. Ten days later California reported their first case in Santa Clara county. By March 19, 2020, California had 675 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 16 deaths. With cases and deaths rising daily, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at home order.

Covid-19 disproportionally affects the access and functional needs (AFN) community. AFN refers to individuals who are/have:

  • Physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities
  • Chronic conditions or injuries
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Older adults
  • Children
  • Low income, homeless and/or transportation disadvantaged (i.e., dependent on public transit)
  • In late stages of pregnancy

“The Office of Access and Functional Needs was able to be the voice to ask about support networks for the AFN community’s health needs along with their mental and emotional needs throughout the pandemic,” said Vance Taylor, Chief of the Office of Access and Functional Needs (OAFN) at the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

OAFN expanded the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for home environments, providing over 200 million units of PPE to individuals who required help. OAFN also worked with community partners and government agencies to develop programs like the Friendship Line which allowed individuals staying at home the opportunity to talk with someone and connect.

Testing played a vital part of slowing the spread of Covid-19. California opened multiple testing sites, supported by OAFN who worked to provide services to anyone needing transportation or assistance. OAFN also worked with vaccination sites across the state to assure challenges and needs were identified and addressed to serve the whole community.

OAFN worked with partners like Pacific Americans with Disabilities Act and Disability Rights California to develop MyTurn set up, making it easy for individuals to know when they were eligible to get vaccinated and the nearest vaccination sites.

Anticipating AFN community needs, OAFN developed a model that was used by the rest of the country including:

  • Free transit to and from sites
  • On-site American Sign Language and language interpreters
  • Video remote interpreters
  • Accessible bathrooms on sites
  • Climate control tents
  • Privacy rooms for those who are unable to wear a mask due to sensory sensitivity or a physical, developmental, or intellectual disability

“No one ever said, ‘we can’t provide this care or address specific needs.’ When issues were identified at the state level, we wanted to do what was needed to set services up.” Taylor explains.

“The first vehicle that went through the Los Angeles vaccination clinic required language translation services and we were ready,” said Taylor.

On June 15th, California will fully open its economy.  The Cal OES OAFN department will work with their allies, government agencies and partners to enhance future response. “Working with so many state government agencies they now have this prospective,” Taylor continues. “They now can view all their services through the OAFN lens in everything they do. Building a stronger system to meet the command.”

Throughout the global pandemic, Cal OES OAFN has motivated agencies and organizations to look at situations with a whole community approach by integrating the AFN community, which will lead to a more resilient California.

For more information on the Cal OES Office of Access and Functional Needs, visit www.caloes.ca.gov/Cal-OES-Divisions/Access-Functional-Needs