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Many of the changes wrought by the pandemic helped the disabled. They're not ready to give them up

Billy Jean Louis, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Health & Fitness

Debbie Gnibus, of Middle River in Baltimore County, whose son, Ricky, also uses the League, shares the same worries as Padilla.

Ricky Gnibus, 41, has arthrogryposis, a muscle nerve disorder, and operates his wheelchair with his mouth or chin. He cannot operate the wheelchair with a mask on, she said.

Debbie Gnibus, 63, lives 40 minutes from the League and works full time. Before the pandemic, Ricky rode the bus to the League. Now he does virtual sessions.

“I’m concerned Ricky would be more susceptible to getting COVID. Even with the shot, people are still getting [the virus]” she said. “There are so many unknowns. You just don’t know what to do, and I’m trying to do the best that I can for my son.”

Jacqueline Jones, 53, of West Baltimore, has had four strokes. Jones, who uses a wheelchair and is partially blind in one eye, took part in the League’s virtual programs, which she said kept her busy. “This is a good place to be.”

While she’s comfortable going to the League’s office in person, she said she’d like others to have access to virtual learning as the state reopens.

 

“For me personally, I would come back to the League. I love the League, but there are some people out there that are still hesitant to come back because of the COVID-19 virus and the variant,” she said. “I was concerned, but after getting vaccinated, I feel better about coming back to the League.”

Changes to which virtual services are offered also impact local schools. People with disabilities are among those whose households have the lowest incomes, and many students lacked the technology and access to participate in virtual learning, according to the Maryland Developmental Disability Council. For example, a lack of closed captioning or interpreters continues to be a problem, and screens are not always useful for the visually impaired.

But despite the challenges, “virtual life is generally positive for people who have mobility issues because it alleviates the stress that can come with traveling,” said Rachel London, executive director of the MDDC.

London said the organization raised $200,000 to provide technology for remote school access and other virtual services, but some spaces were still inaccessible.

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