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Disabled Floridians are being left behind in the scramble to get citizens vaccinated 

'At risk and forgotten'

One year. That's how long it's been since the onset of "the new normal," when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Since then, the coronavirus has caused the deaths of more than 2 million people around the world, including more than 32,000 Floridians.

The rapid development and distribution of life-saving vaccines, however, is allowing millions of people to ease into a different sense of normality, at least for those fortunate enough to be able to get shots.

For nearly three months, Gov. Ron DeSantis has focused on a "seniors-first" policy, pointing to data showing coronavirus morbidity rates are highest among people who are age 65 and older. And while vaccinations are gradually becoming available for other groups, the process to sign up for shots or to wait in line to receive them may be difficult or impossible for some people to navigate.

Lawyers, professors and other advocates last week asked DeSantis and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is operating some vaccination sites in Florida, to ensure that people with disabilities gain access to the inoculations. 

Currently, "there are no procedures for persons with disabilities to ask for assistance or accommodation for any part of the vaccination process," the advocates wrote in an open letter.

"There is an uncontroversial ethical, moral and legal obligation to ensure that people with disabilities be immunized as a priority," the letter said.

The group asked DeSantis to provide options other than physicians' attestations for people to show they qualify for immunizations. They also want a published list of types of conditions that would entitle people to be considered extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 and, as a result, eligible for shots.

Among other things, the advocates are asking that people be provided a method to request accommodations and be given a "fast-pass method" if they are unable to stand or wait for long periods of time. Also on the list of requests: transportation to vaccination sites and in-home inoculations for those who are unable to travel or are severely immunocompromised.

Matthew Dietz, litigation director for Disability Independence Group, fought to get in-home testing for disabled Floridians but was unable to get similar accommodations for shots, he said in an email.

"These folks are the most at risk and forgotten," Dietz, who was one of the advocates who sent the letter, added.

DeSantis has sent "strike teams" to vaccinate certain homebound seniors. Last week, the governor tweeted that the state had launched a new way for homebound seniors to request a shot via email.

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