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Pandemic Sparks New Concerns For People With Disabilities

Carolyn Kaster
The U.S. "still [has] work to do" to help people with disabilities, says Nancy Murray, president of The Arc Greater Pittsburgh.


On today's program: People with disabilities are still facing new challenges 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act; the economy is opening but experts say some industries are adapting to the “new normal” better than others; and a Chambersburg Post Office shows how COVID-19 safety precautions that got wrapped up in election-year politics.

Lives of people with disabilities today are “so much different” than  30 years ago, says disability advocate

(00:00 — 6:48)

COVID-19 has upended daily life in the Pittsburgh region, and for people with disabilities, the pandemic has added some additional challenges.

Nancy Murray is president ofThe Arc of Greater Pittsburgh and a senior vice president forAchieva, a non-profit that advocates for people with disabilities. She says advocates remain concerned about social isolation from family and friends, despite some victories in medical care and visitation policies for people with disabilities and chronic medical issues early in the pandemic.

“Not being able to go home with their family, really visit with them like they used to—many of these folks are truly cognitively not able to understand why they can’t visit with a family member,” she says. 

There are concerns about long term behavioral issues because of the social isolation, she continued. 

As the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches, Murray says the lives of people with disabilities in the United States are much different. 

“Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with all types of disabilities are now afforded opportunities that frankly, you know, we hoped for 30 years ago, but it was almost hard to imagine.”

But, she says, “We still have work to do.”

Post-pandemic, economists predict a shift in consumer behaviors
(6:50 — 10:58)

Even though much of the economy has partially reopened, recent numbers show continuing job losses in the hospitality, arts and restaurant industries compared to the same period last year. In April, employment shrank in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area by more than 170,000 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Christopher Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research, says economists are seeing a few surprises, such as  some industries weathering the pandemic better than others.

“I think some industries are going to take a while to come back,” he says, naming the restaurant industry as one sector that may take time to return to pre-COVID levels of employment. “Some workers in some industries can adapt to this, sort of, new environment, and others clearly can’t.”

The forecasting methods economists would use to predict the trajectory of the economy through the end of the year are thrown out because of the pandemic, Briem says. He predicts economic trends will follow public health trends.

“Even if things were safe all of a sudden, are we really going to be going to restaurants as much as we did before? Is the entertainment and the hospitality industry, business travel—those things could all have longer-term impacts, even if we had sort of a great resolution to the public health crisis as it is, and I’m not sure we’re there either,” he says. 

When postal workers refuse to wear masks, the state can’t do anything about it
(11:01 — 18:12)

Face masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has sickenedmore than 98,000 Pennsylvanians and killed more than 7,000. Earlier this month, state Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine issued an order requiring people to wear masks in public places. But some workers at the U.S. Post Office in Chambersburg refuse.

The state says it doesn’t have jurisdiction because post offices are federal entities. WITF’sBrett Sholtis reports, for people who think masks are part of the culture wars,the post office may be the perfect battleground.


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at
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