– A new tool from the Johns Hopkins Disability Research Center ranks states for how accessible their COVID-19 vaccine signup websites are, helping to broadcast improvements needed in the vaccine access process.
The dashboard, developed alongside the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities, initially sought to track how people with disabilities had been prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. The tool would help individuals with certain disabilities or conditions understand when they could access the COVID-19 based on their state’s eligibility criteria.
Although every state has now opened up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all patients over age 16, the dashboard has now found a new purpose: helping to rank states based on how accessible their vaccine signup websites are.
Often, vaccine registration website use visuals and charts to help communicate a message. This is not helpful for individuals with vision impairment, who often cannot use or otherwise interpret those charts or visuals.
The dashboard now includes information about both how accessible vaccine education is on these websites, as well as how accessible it is to sign up for a vaccine appointment.
As of April 21, the day the dashboard received this updated information, the states with the most accessible vaccine education include Minnesota, Maryland, Kansas, Louisiana, and California. Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Indiana, and Virginia have the most accessible COVID-19 vaccine signup portals.
“Since we began tracking COVID-19 vaccine website accessibility just a few weeks ago, there have been improvements, but many issues remain,” Bonnielin Swenor, PhD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center and associate professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
“The majority of U.S. state and territory COVID-19 vaccine websites have over 100 accessibility errors, which is an error rate that is sure to prevent many people with disabilities from accessing the vaccine,” added Swenor, how directs the dashboard project.
Accessibility has been a key question during the COVID-19 pandemic. This time last year, as public health leaders sought to disseminate coronavirus education, it became clear that education needed to be accessible. That meant making public health messaging accessible for individuals with disabilities, like the visually impaired.
“This issue with messaging for people with disabilities is centered on accessing the information,” Swenor said in an interview at the start of the pandemic. “When you think about people who have vision or hearing loss, there are a lot of challenges to even accessing that information. By and large, the messaging is not and has not been accessible.”
According to Swenor, ASL interpreters were good first steps in the press conferences held frequently last spring, but not quite enough. During her May interview with PatientEngagementHIT, she mentioned that other tools would make websites more accessible.
For example, use of alternative text—the words that appear when one’s cursor hovers over an image—can help screen readers dictate what is going on for an individual who is hearing impaired.
“A great example that’s come out of this pandemic is the reference to flattening the curve,” Swenor continued. “If you can’t see the curve sometimes that important content gets lost.”
Now that it’s time for COVID-19 vaccine registration, it’s important that those same educational resources continue to be accessible for individuals with disabilities, something the John’s Hopkins dashboard suggests isn’t being achieved.
At the start of the pandemic, Swenor suggested it best for public health agencies to actually partner with individuals with disabilities and advocacy groups to make improvements.
“We must get people with disabilities included in that conversation about planning and strategy,” Swenor said at the time. “The way to do that is to actually engage people with disabilities. Don’t just think what’s best for them, but talk to people with disabilities and include them in the workforce.”
That strategy may be fruitful now, and for time to come, as public health messaging continues to be a key issue.