At Disability Network Southwest Michigan, we know the importance of peer support – it is one of our core services, and now it is more important than ever. As soon as we were forced to close our doors to in-person gatherings due to COVID-19, we needed to find a way for our peer support groups to continue meeting. Our Phenomenal Women group, a peer support group for women with any type of disability, quickly initiated a weekly online Zoom meeting.
Disability Network staff worked with each of the participants to ensure that they could access the meetings. Some members live with family or a caregiver who could help them connect, but several live alone, and the peer support meetings were perhaps most important for these ladies who were now cut off from other people entirely.
Sharon started out just calling in to the meetings on her phone, but this wasn’t practical because it was utilizing a lot of the minutes on her phone plan. Disability Network provided Sharon with a laptop computer so that she can join the meetings using the video conference and not exhaust her phone plan. Maria and Kim each have a tablet but didn’t know how to use them to log on to the Zoom meetings. Staff met with each of them independently, while practicing required social distancing rules, and taught them how to use their tablets to join the meetings.
Lori is a long-time member of Phenomenal Women. She is not able to utilize technology independently, so providing her with a device at home wasn’t going to solve the technology problem for her. During our shutdown, aside from going to the grocery store with her sister once a week, Lori had not been getting out or interacting with people at all. She really missed her friends and the comradery of the Phenomenal Women group — these are her people! At the point that our offices opened so that we could have controlled, limited sessions with customers, we arranged for staff to set up a laptop for Lori at one of our customer stations every week so that she can come to our office and join her friends online.
Connecting with others provides an important support network and fulfills the basic need for social interaction. All of our Phenomenal Women are grateful to be able to connect, especially during this time of isolation and separation.
Removing barriers to allow people with disabilities to reach their independent living goals is what we do at Disability Network. Sometimes that means helping people problem solve their unique situations so that they can get the supports they need to live independently. We cannot do this important work without your support.