At the height of the lockdown in Ottawa, Donna Thomson and her husband, Jim, went to visit their 32-year-old son Nicholas, who has severe cerebral palsy and lives in a care home. Like many families with disabled children who live in group settings, they’d been unable to see him for a long time. But it was not a happy experience.
They stood outside Nicholas’s window, trying to interact with him. “It made me really sad,” says Ms. Thomson over the phone. “They have triple-glazed windows and all I could see was my reflection. When you’re speaking to a non-speaking person, so much communication is non-verbal, through body language. I just felt so far away from him.”
Now, people who have a family member with disabilities face an unseen second crisis. If they’re providing care in the home, they have probably lost all outside support. No more respite care or day trips. No more visits from physiotherapists or other health professionals. And if the family member is living in a group home, the situation is equally bad, since many of those facilities have banned visits even from close relatives, citing health concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
"For most older Americans, care will come from unpaid family members or friends, who contributed around $600 billion worth of free labor to the...