Living with Disabilities During COVID-19

May 19, 2021
Stock Photo: Portrait of disabled man in protective mask sitting on wheelchair and looking at camera at office. From Getty.

MSU faculty launched an online survey in April 2020 to find out how COVID-19 was impacting people’s lives, especially those with disabilities. With responses from more than 2,000 people across 20 countries, individuals with disabilities reported experiencing more negative consequences, such as high stress and trouble keeping or finding jobs. The survey also showed how the effects of living in a pandemic have varied across cultures, genders and income levels.

For those living with chronic illnesses or disabilities (CID), the researchers say, the pandemic has only exacerbated existing challenges and inequalities—and highlighted the need for more resources.

Of the 2,438 adults responding to the survey, 600 have CID. Though individuals with CID were more likely to be laid off or fired from their jobs, their reported levels of stress were greater with poorer life satisfaction regardless of how the pandemic was affecting their lives.

“Once we do come out of this pandemic, there are going to be a lot of things we need to address in order to help people with disabilities get back to their new ‘normal’ as well as accessing equitable health care services, vocational supports and mental health services,” said Marisa Fisher, associate professor of special education. “It’s also important to develop better strategies for health care workers, families and caregivers to support people with disabilities in crisis situations like this.” 

Fisher co-leads the project with Connie Sung, associate professor of rehabilitation counseling.

“If they have lost jobs, it’s a lot harder for them to find another position, which could also impact their social circles, mental health and quality of life,” Sung said. “Being able to work and contribute to society means more than just a paycheck—it gives people meaning, self-esteem and much more.”


“The Impacts and Experiences of COVID-19 on Employment for Individuals with Disabilities,” Journal of Rehabilitation, & “Determining Factors of Psychosocial Wellbeing among People with Disabilities during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Mediating Role of Social Support,” Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education.