The Good, the Bad, and the Current Landscape of COVID-19 At-Home Test Accessibility

Alan Lovell holding accessible COVID-19 test kit

by Katie Frederick

The pandemic has exposed many life-threatening inequities in many “systems” for people who have disabilities, including blindness or low vision. In early 2022, the New York Times published a story with the headline: Covid Tests Inaccessible to the Blind, highlighting one issue in a series of serious issues that have arisen for people who are blind or low vision. Furthermore, The Flatten Inaccessibility Study, conducted during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, documented many of the challenges those who are blind or low vision faced. Let’s look at the potential inequities surrounding COVID-19, the process of obtaining an in-home test kit, the accessibility of test kits, and how accessibility is evolving and improving.

Inequities

Some of the inequities cited in the Flatten Inaccessibility Study include lack of transportation to obtain testing and vaccination sites, groceries, and supplies; lack of access to information; and lack of access to medical services. The ability to use technology, such as smartphones, was noted as a critical skill to access these services. The Flatten Inaccessibility Study Executive Summary highlights statistics revealing not all individuals have the technological tools and skills to access vaccination sites, groceries, supplies, information, and medical services.

Obtaining In-Home Tests 

Thankfully, there have been advancements in accessing test kits, as there are a variety of at-home COVID tests currently available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides an explanation of at-home tests, guidelines for when to test, and resources for obtaining tests. As of June 2022, free tests are available through the federal government. U.S. households can order two sets of four free at-home tests (for a total of eight free tests). Visit COVID.gov/tests or call 1-800-232-0233 to place an order. Local health departments may be able to supply test resources. U.S. retailers, such as CVS Pharmacy, sell kits for purchase, and your medical insurance may reimburse you for the cost of at-home test kits you purchase: Check with your medical plan for specifics. 

Individuals who are blind or low vision can order 12 tests that are more accessible. Visit the USPS site to place an order.

Are At-Home COVID Tests Accessible? 

As we adjust to living with the coronavirus, and some individuals begin to travel more, the APH ConnectCenter staff were curious about the accessibility of in-home COVID-19 tests.  Alan Lovell, APH ConnectCenter Information and Referral (I&R) Line Coordinator recorded a video demonstrating how a person who is blind or has low vision can use a test kit. The video is available in with Spanish subtitles. Smartphone apps such as Seeing AI and AIRA, a visual interpreter service that uses trained professionals who provide real-time information via a smartphone’s camera, enabled Alan to complete his test.  

As Alan walks us through unboxing the test kit, using Seeing AI to read instructions, and completing the test with help from an Aira agent, he reflects on how the process would not be possible without the aid of assistive technology or an individual who can see. Individuals who have access to the above-mentioned services can successfully complete an in-home COVID test.  

Accessible Pharmacy and Be My Eyes have partnered to guide people who are blind or have low vision through the process of self-administering a test and understanding the results. However, individuals using this process must have a smartphone. 

Most testing kits come with instructions that include pictures as well as a QR code on the label of the box, which links to a video of the process. Neither the picture-dependent instructions nor the videos enable equal access for individuals who are blind, deaf blind, or have low vision. 

Given COVID-19’s impact on millions of people around the world who are blind or have low vision, it is incumbent on manufacturers to develop and offer more accessible solutions.  

The Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) 

As a result of consumer advocacy organizations and articles highlighting barriers to COVID-19 tests, a more accessible solution is available now. In early 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration (2022) published a fact sheet detailing ongoing COVID test accessibility initiatives. One such initiative is the Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL), reached by calling 1-888-677-1199, which provides assistance to individuals using tests administered by the Administration.

DIAL operators can help with ordering free tests; understanding instructions and results; or providing alternative instructions for those unable to access, read, or understand test directions. For individuals unable to use an in-home test, DIAL operators can also connect people to local community resources such as local health departments or aging and disability agencies. State and local agencies may be able to assist with alternative tests or transportation to a test site.

Additionally, in a February 2022 press release, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the agency’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx®) Tech program which is working to improve accessibility with COVID-19 diagnostic test kits. Experts from NIH, other federal agencies, and organizations representing individuals who are blind or have low vision, are collaborating to develop short and long-term accessible in-home test solutions.  

More Accessible COVID Tests

In June 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration launched a new initiative expanding availability of a more accessible test for individuals who are blind or low vision. Individuals can order up to 12 tests. Each test box has a QR Code, that when scanned, directs individuals to the website to download the app needed to complete the test. The app guides you through the test process. Via Bluetooth, the app connects to an analyzer, which enables results to display on a smartphone. The test offers some improved accessibility, however, still requires access to a smartphone.  


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