Helping Patients with Disabilities During Pandemic and Beyond

By: Sarah Katz

October is Disability Awareness month, and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. With 1 in 4 U.S. adults living with a disability, the UPMC Disabilities Resource Center (DRC) was created in 2007 to ensure that these patients get the accommodations they need at any of our facilities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team at the DRC knew that their help would be needed more than ever.

“This year, we saw a spike in the percentage of calls and requests that came in regarding assistance with effective communication, largely due to the issues that masking presents for some people with disabilities,” said Ashli Molinero, director of the DRC.

Universal masking presents complications for effective communication for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing and sometimes rely on reading lips. Molinero and her team made sure that all UPMC facilities have access to masks with clear panels that allow these patients to read lips.

In addition, the DRC worked with the UPMC telemedicine team to make sure people with disabilities could take advantage of UPMC’s telemedicine platforms. One solution: Sign interpreters assist on the platform as well as chat options so that people with low vision can still use the technology.

Through another DRC-directed program called “Let UPMC Help You,” patients who have prescheduled appointments or procedures can make arrangements for disability-related accommodations in advance.

“We want to make sure every person receives the accommodations they need for compassionate care,” Molinero said. “In response to recent events highlighting the inequities that exist in this country, the DRC and UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion have committed to raising our community awareness regarding social injustice, the intersectionality of disability and race and the combined impact on inequities and disparities in health care.”

For more information about the DRC, visit