Experiences, Behaviors, and Attitudes about COVID-19 for People with Disabilities Over Time

Experiences, Behaviors, and Attitudes about COVID-19 for People with Disabilities Over Time

Published: Sep 15, 2023
Publisher: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College
Associated Project

Retirement and Disability Research Consortium

Time frame: 2018-2023

Prepared for:

Social Security Administration


Bernadette Hicks

This paper examines high-frequency patterns of the experiences with, behaviors during, and attitudes about COVID-19 among people with disabilities since the pandemic began. It also examines the timing and predictors of plans to apply for SSA benefits as a result of the pandemic.

The paper highlights the following findings:

  • Beliefs about safety related to COVID-19, such as perceived safety of attending large gatherings and effectiveness of wearing masks, were largely similar between people with and without disabilities. However, people with disabilities engaged in behavior consistent with decreasing the risk of COVID infection for longer periods during the pandemic relative to people without disabilities.
  • People with disabilities reported different levels of economic benefit receipt than those without disabilities throughout the pandemic. They were more likely to report receiving economic stimulus funds, and were less likely to report applying for or (if employed) receiving unemployment insurance early in the pandemic compared with people without disabilities.
  • People with disabilities reported higher levels of uncertainty, especially when assessing plans for receiving the COVID vaccine.
  • Respondents reported that COVID-19 impacted recent applications and plans to apply for SSA programs including Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Supplemental Security Income benefits. Controlling for other covariates, respondents who noted that COVID-19 impacted their plans were more likely to have applied for or plan to apply for these benefits. Those who recently applied to SSDI were more likely to report that COVID influenced their decision to apply earlier, rather than later, on average.

The policy implications of the findings are as follows:

  • People with disabilities and others who engaged in protective behaviors longer through the pandemic might benefit from supports, such as dedicated grocery store hours or stimulus payments, for longer periods of time during future public health emergencies.
  • Rapid research and knowledge sharing focused on people with disabilities could encourage safe returns to pre-pandemic activities.
  • If respondents’ self-reported plans come to fruition, SSA might observe an increase in applications to various programs after 2020 due in part to the pandemic and might anticipate more increases after future public health emergencies.

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