Recognizing 32 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Young adults with hearing disability wearing special face mask for lip-reading

On July 26, 2022, we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in every aspect of life.

This anniversary is especially poignant given the challenges people with disabilities have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in the pandemic, it was evident that people with disabilities were facing inequities that made them more likely to experience severe illness and death from COVID-19. As CDC reflects on the ADA anniversary, we also acknowledge the challenges faced and accomplishments made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as our commitment to continue support of disability inclusion and improving health for all.

COVID-19 Impact

The needs of people with disabilities in an emergency response should be addressed from the outset. As part of the COVID-19 response efforts, CDC worked to help ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in state, territorial, and local preparedness response. This was done by providing funding support to the Association of State and Territorial Health Offices (ASTHO) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to embed disability specialists in public health agencies across the United States. These specialists worked to update emergency response plans to better serve the needs of people with disabilities during outbreaks, pandemics, and other national emergencies. This funding also helped health departments make vaccination sites more accessible for people with disabilities, provided the ability to vaccinate people who were unable to leave their homes, and guided health departments on best practices for providing more vaccination opportunities for people with disabilities.

Importance of Inclusion and Accessibility During Pandemic

CDC worked to create guidance documents and toolkits for people with disabilities, including guidance for clinics about vaccinating people with disabilities, and vaccine considerations for people with disabilities. CDC also worked with the Administration for Community Living (ACL) to create the COVID-19 Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) to help people with disabilities get vaccinated.

Senior woman and her adult daughter enjoying the outdoors together wearing protective face masks

CDC also increased accessible communications for people with disabilities. For example, videos in American Sign Language (ASL) were created for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. These ASL videos addressed topics such as COVID-19 prevention, COVID-19 vaccinations, and coping with the stress of the pandemic. The videos can be found here.

Further, CDC developed easy-to-read materials about COVID-19 for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people with literacy challenges. Topics  included vaccination, booster shots, mask wearing, and more. These materials, found on the CDC website, provided important information on COVID-19 in easy-to-read summaries to give all people the opportunity to improve health and keep safe.

Finally, through CDC-led scientific reviews, the COVID-19 response team updated the list of certain medical conditions to include people with disabilities. This list contains the conditions that put people at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. The data on people with disabilities were also used to update CDC’s COVID Tracker and inform other important public health decisions during the pandemic.

Providing Access to Disability Data

Data are the driving force behind our work, so CDC developed the Disability and Health Data System (DHDS) to provide vital information to better understand the health needs of adults with disabilities at the state and national levels. Equipped with these data, state epidemiologists, researchers, policymakers, public health professionals, and anyone interested in the health of adults with disabilities can plan for inclusive communities that offer the programs and services needed to improve the health of this population. DHDS provides answers to questions such as

  • What is the percentage of adults with a disability in my state?
  • How does the health of adults with disabilities vary by age, sex, and race/ethnicity?
  • How does the health of adults with disabilities in my state compare to other states and the nation?
  • How does the percentage of depression, diabetes, obesity, or smoking vary among people with select disability types?

As we move into a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC continues to address the challenges people with disabilities face during an emergency response. Our aim to improve health for all will continue as we recognize the anniversary of the ADA and strive to reduce the inequities for people with disabilities.