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Building Capacity for Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Preparedness Planning and Response

Find examples of how disability specialists embedded in health departments across the United States have advanced disability inclusion in emergency planning and response efforts.

In 2020, CDC funded the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) through a project titled Addressing Needs of People with Disabilities in COVID-19 Preparedness Planning, Mitigation, and Recovery Efforts in U.S. State, Territorial, City, and County Health Jurisdictions.

The purpose of this project is to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in state, territorial, and local health department preparedness and response efforts by embedding disability specialists, who serve as subject matter experts, in public health emergency preparedness planning and response programs. Disability specialists are embedded in 28 state, territorial, and local health departments across the United States and are working to assess, plan, implement, and evaluate disability inclusion efforts within these agencies.


Disability specialists conducted baseline needs assessments to understand how state, territorial, and local health departments are addressing the needs of people with disabilities in their preparedness planning, mitigation, and recovery efforts. The assessment included a gap analysis to identify areas of improvement in COVID-19 response activities and partnerships with state and local organizations that serve people with disabilities.


Using information collected from the baseline needs assessments, disability specialists developed individualized program implementation, evaluation, and sustainability plans to meet the needs of the health departments. Additionally, they identified promising practices from COVID-19 response efforts and other past emergency responses to develop recommendations for quality improvement in preparedness planning


Disability specialists are working to update local emergency response plans to better serve the needs of people with disabilities during emergencies. They are also working to better engage with people with disabilities in their jurisdiction and to develop partnerships with local disability organizations. Disability specialists participate in monthly learning community calls, which provide an opportunity to engage with other specialists as peers and share best practices and lessons learned throughout the project period.

Additional activities disability specialists are engaged in include holding listening sessions with disability organizations and making recommendations to solve issues within the context of the local response; engaging and coordinating with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional disability integration specialists and other FEMA staff for disability service organizations to determine local needs; and collaborating with federal partners, community-based organizations, disability advocates, community members, local government, nonprofit agencies, and other relevant entities to coordinate efforts at the local level.


ASTHO and NACCHO, in collaboration with CDC, developed an evaluation framework for the project. The framework includes process and outcome measures and a mixed-methods approach for data collection from health departments and disability specialists. Disability specialists are working with ASTHO and NACCHO to develop and implement individualized (at the health department level) evaluation plans in line with the overall evaluation framework.