RE: Expanding vaccine mandates to address the needs of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities

Latest News

RE: Expanding vaccine mandates to address the needs of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities

Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary
California Department of Health and Human Services
1900 9th Street, Suite 490
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Secretary Ghaly:

Thank you for everything you have done throughout this pandemic to listen to and respond to disability community priorities. I am personally grateful for your leadership and working with you has been one of the highlights of my first 18 months as the executive director of Disability Rights California (DRC).

My colleagues and I at DRC appreciate all you and the State Department of Public Health have done regarding vaccination requirements in California. These mandates will save lives, including the lives of people with disabilities and our loved ones. Recently, Disability Voices United wrote to you about the vaccination requirement for healthcare workers in California, and asked for that requirement to be extended to workers who provide support services to people with developmental disabilities who receive regional center services.

DRC supports requiring vaccinations for direct support providers, including those funded through regional centers and In-Home Supportive Services. But the responsibility for ensuring disabled people’s safety and quality of life should not fall on direct support workers or healthcare workers alone. It is a responsibility that every one of us shares. Therefore, we also support a broader vaccination mandate for all Californians eligible and able to be vaccinated.

We support this position for three reasons. First, limited vaccination mandates are actually more likely to lead to workforce attrition that could leave disabled people without care or support. California is already experiencing an unprecedented level of shortages in the direct support workforce. For many disabled people, especially in rural areas, their choices may be limited to support from an unvaccinated individual or no support at all. If a vaccination mandate remains limited to healthcare and direct support workers, unvaccinated direct support providers are more likely to leave caregiving work for other jobs without vaccination requirements, thereby exacerbating existing workforce problems. A broader vaccination mandate for all eligible workers, not just healthcare and/or direct support workers, would be more effective in compelling vaccine-hesitant direct support providers to get vaccinated.

Second, we have concerns about carving out vaccination mandates in ways that single out and disproportionally burden those who are already most economically vulnerable. Direct support providers for disabled and older individuals are typically low-paid, and are often women and/or people of color— the very groups that have already disproportionally borne the brunt of this pandemic. The burden and responsibility for halting this health crisis should be shared more equitably, across all sectors and populations. At a minimum, if the current healthcare worker mandate were to be extended to direct support providers only, those providers should receive paid time off both to get vaccinated and to recuperate from any related side effects. They should also be provided with easy, readily accessible COVID testing at no cost to them.

Finally, people with disabilities have had a long history of being isolated and segregated from the rest of society. While California has made tremendous strides toward reversing that trend, the progress we have made will be deeply threatened if we cannot get the Delta variant, and other potential variants to come, under control. This cannot be accomplished by vaccinating only small segments of the population. Therefore, policies focused on protecting disabled people in congregate settings or in their homes are welcome, but do not go far enough. Disabled people exist, get support, and belong in their communities. Broader vaccination mandates will make it possible for disabled people to live fully in the world on their own terms.

DRC supports DVU’s request to extend vaccination requirements to direct support providers. But more broadly, we call for vaccination policies that maximize vaccination rates, and that maximize disabled people’s ability to be part of their communities, while minimizing the economic burden on the communities who have been impacted most.

Thank you for your consideration, and for your leadership on behalf of our community.


Andrew J. Imparato
Executive Director Disability Rights California

Michelle Baass, Undersecretary, Department of Health and Human Services
Nancy Bargmann, Director, Department of Developmental Services Dr. Tomas Aragon, Director, Department of Public Health
Hon. Toni Atkins, President Pro Tempore, California State Senate Hon. Anthony Rendon, Speaker, California State Assembly
Hon. Richard Pan, Chair, Senate Health Committee
Hon. Jim Wood, Chair, Assembly Health Committee
Hon. Melissa Hurtado, Chair, Senate Human Services Committee Hon. Lisa Calderon, Chair, Assembly Human Services Committee Hon. Susan Eggman, Chair, Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services
Hon. Joaquin Arambula, Chair, Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services
Hon. John Laird, Chair, Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education Hon. Jim Frazier, Chair, Select Committee on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities