Breaking Ground 104 - How the Pandemic Changed Pathfinder

By Angelica Deaton, Statewide Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, and Karen Mevis, Statewide Information and Referral Coordinator for TN Disability Pathfinder

Tennessee Disability Pathfinder is Tennessee’s statewide information and referral service. It was launched by and continues to be funded through the Council. Pathfinder offers a central source where individuals and families can search, find, and connect with the disability services they need.

Pathfinder includes a website with a searchable directory of Tennessee agencies and services and a call center providing information and referral. Learn more at or call Pathfinder at 1-800-640-4636. Find Spanish-language resources at

a screenshot of a virtual meeting among Pathfinder staff – includes 6 women of different races, and a Black man, that makes up the team of Pathfinder staff.
In a world of remote meetings, Disability Pathfinder's staff continues the work to help Tennesseans find resources for people with disabilities.

Disability Pathfinder was not immune to the coronavirus. Big changes came in the wake of the arrival of the COVID-19. Those changes continue today.

Many things about Pathfinder’s work shifted to meet the needs of Tennesseans with disabilities, their families, and the professionals serving them. Access to resources and the way we helped people connect to services changed over time. Our Multicultural Program struggled to help people who don’t speak English address major health disparities or inequalities. Even our website changed to help people better understand COVID-19 and disability, with new health resources related to the pandemic. Life as we knew it changed. Just one thing did not change: our dedication to helping Tennesseans find resources for persons with disabilities.

Now we:         

  • Work remotely;
  • Post the statewide COVID-19 resources at the top of the Pathfinder website homepage;
  • Attend and host virtual meetings, trainings, and conferences;         
  • Make sure agencies are open before referring to them;
  • Help people find COVID-19 test sites so they can go to a homeless shelter;
  • Give people information about a resource they need and then help them figure out transportation, if needed;
  • Find out if new rules mean people will wait in the parking lot of agencies they need to visit;
  • Frequently ask if people have enough food;
  • Explain and explore telehealth options;
  • Find and give online resources when in-person resources are not available;
  • Sometimes assist in translating vital health information for the Spanish-speaking community.

Within Nashville’s Latino communities, the pandemic's negative economic impact broadened health disparities for people living with disabilities. Reductions in working hours and job losses hit people and families harder when there is no access to financial help. Additional barriers – like the lack of Spanish language resources and access to health care, working in public service jobs that do not provide health insurance or sick leave, and the fear of asking for help due to concerns about immigration status – result in families being unable to get housing, food, medications, equipment, therapies, treatments, or even COVID-19 testing. Furthermore, some people in these families must choose to go to work even if they are at risk, and even if they have been exposed to the virus, just to have enough money to survive. 

Many of the stories we’ve heard are alarming. Some are heartbreaking. For example, Maria, a Latino mother of three children, including a child who has cerebral palsy, started to have symptoms like joint pain, headaches, and fever. She and other members of her family were uninsured and could not get a test to confirm COVID-19. (At the time, testing was not readily available.) The entire family lived under a fearful cloud of uncertainty, until it got worse. The only child with health insurance – the child with a disability – tested positive.

Maria’s story reflects the challenging experiences of Latino families with members who have disabilities – families without access to health care, and without an option to quarantine and prevent the spread. Maria is now considering applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for her child as the only way to provide for him. She knows that this may affect the possibility of becoming a permanent citizen in this country.

In response to the evolving pandemic and the changing, growing needs of Tennesseans, Pathfinder doubled down on its efforts to provide Latinos with more resources. One of the first steps we took was to develop a user-friendly webpage of COVID-19 resources in Spanish. Pathfinder gives all Latinos (with and without disabilities) easy access through Camino Seguro to resources available in Spanish.

As the practices of masking, social isolation, and self-quarantine stretched further and further into the future, we witnessed quickly increasing numbers of people looking for financial help. They needed new ways to cover essential needs. Our Multicultural Program broadened into areas where there was no one else to help. We helped with interpretation, and when individuals and families met the requirements, helped with filling out applications for unemployment, Families First, Food Stamps (SNAP), and Family Support, to name a few. When opportunities were found, we referred and connected families in need with community partners.

Social media has been especially important during this time for the Multicultural Program. We share information from official sources in Spanish at our Camino Seguro Facebook page.  We share the same information with a closed group for families who include someone with a disability. Families on our mailing list receive emails and text messages when relevant new information about resources and guidelines come out. They also get check-in contact notifications to help us stay in touch. Pathfinder has let Latino families know they can reach out to us with their resource needs.

Some of the most heartbreaking stories involve complex resource needs and requests. Untimely deaths of caregivers from COVID-19, for example, has left some people with disabilities alone, unable to live safely by themselves. When Ann didn’t come home from the hospital, her adult son with autism was alone. Without any plans made for the future, his friends and family were left to desperately seek options to help support him – but few options exist. Pathfinder specializes in information and referral, but we sometimes wish we could create the resources that are missing.

Many callers seem to feel better just from talking to a real person. We hear that a lot, and that has not changed at Pathfinder. Callers can still talk to a person on the phone. People who email us asking for help get responses as soon as possible; and people who want to search by themselves on our user-friendly site can. One of our newest staff members is continually updating our information and improving our website. We all are still dedicated to giving you the best information and resources we can find – before, during, and after the pandemic.

Tennessee Disability Pathfinder

Your navigator on the path to community services.

Helpline: 800-640-4636

Tennessee Disability Pathfinder is a project of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, with additional support from the Tennessee Departments of Education, Health, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and Human Services/Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.