UC Berkeley COVID-19 testing facilities pose challenges for some students with disabilities

Photo of RSF testing center
Gisselle Reyes/Staff
According to University Health Services spokesperson Tami Cate, the Tang Center and Recreational Sports Facility COVID-19 testing sites 'both have good accessibility' and protocols for how to help patients who may need additional assistance.

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While many students get tested regularly at UC Berkeley’s University Health Services, or UHS, coronavirus testing facilities, some students with disabilities find it challenging to access these services.

Liza Mamedov-Turchinsky, a campus senior with three physical disabilities that put her at a higher risk of severe symptoms if she contracts COVID-19, said there are several issues that make UHS testing facilities inaccessible to her. UHS spokesperson Tami Cate said UHS staff work to ensure the sites are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, and public health guidelines.

“Testing, in general, with (COVID-19) and disabilities, is generally inaccessible,” Mamedov-Turchinsky said. “A lot of them are drive-in or walk-up, which is hard for people with disabilities.”

She also said accessing the UHS testing sites is difficult because she has chronic pain and they are not within walking distance.

Additionally, Mamedov-Turchinsky noted that she has to log in using a portal when scheduling a testing appointment or when accessing test results through UHS web services. She said online portals are “very difficult” to use for students with limited vision who use screen reading software.

UHS opened a testing site in the Gate 5 area of the Field Club at Memorial Stadium on Oct. 9, according to Cate. She said this site is “not ideal” for students with physical disabilities, however, because of COVID-19 closures and restricted areas, making it difficult to reach the stadium.

Cate added that UHS has communicated with students who have accessibility needs to book appointments at the Tang Center or the Recreational Sports Facility. According to Cate, the Memorial Stadium testing facility also has signage at accessible entrances to the stadium with a phone number to reach a staff member who can grant people access to an elevator.

The Tang Center and RSF COVID-19 testing sites, however, “both have good accessibility” and protocols for how to help patients who may need additional assistance, Cate said.

“In setting up our testing site operations, we plan out the patient flow … to meet both public health standards and ADA standards,” Cate said in an email. “As a health center making sure our care and services are accessible and following ADA standards is important.”

Testing facilities are staffed with ADA standards advisers, according to Cate. She said they are responsible for conducting walk-throughs to ensure all ADA guidelines have been addressed, including proper spacing, signage and assistance plans.

Another campus testing program, the Free Asymptomatic Saliva Testing study, is run by the Innovative Genomics Institute. The yet to be Food and Drug Administration-approved study is coordinated by campus graduate student Alexander Ehrenberg and is conducting tests in two outdoor locations: one near Pimentel Hall and one at the Genetics and Plant Biology building.

The east testing site sits atop a steep hill, according to Ehrenberg, which poses a challenge to people with physical disabilities that impede their mobility. He added, however, that both sites are ADA compliant.

The west testing site has a ramp leading to it, Ehrenberg said, which makes it easier to access. He added that the study has been trying to schedule older participants for testing at the west site because the study’s administration does not want people to exert themselves too much.

“Part of it being a study is trying to improve it as it goes along, which also means making the test low-barrier, easily accessible,” Ehrenberg said. “We are looking forward to working with the participants to make it even better.”

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.