Embedded: Reflections from Disability and Preparedness Specialists

October 18, 2022 | ASTHO Staff

Over the last year and a half, ASTHO embedded "disability and preparedness specialists" in 18 jurisdictions. These specialists worked tirelessly to better include people living with disabilities in emergency preparedness. The impact they had on the disability community in their jurisdictions was invaluable. Learn more about their work in this video.


Some answers have been edited for clarity.

ASTHO embedded disability and preparedness specialists in 18 jurisdictions across the country.

Through this CDC-funded program, ASTHO and the specialists worked to close gaps in emergency preparedness for people living with disabilities.

At the conclusion of a year and a half of work, the specialists share reflections on important lessons learned and why disability inclusion is critical to the future of emergency preparedness.

The role gave people with disabilities a voice. They had the opportunity to speak directly to Arizona Department of Health Services staff to let them know what the issues are and what issues they're facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I feel my role here in Tennessee has had a big impact on the disability community in that there are more channels of communication open. Before this role started, the people in the disability community at different organizations didn't really know who to go to and vice versa on the preparedness side. So, now we've created these relationships that hopefully we will maintain over time to keep this work going.

The impact that this role had on the community was to really bring to the forefront the importance of including people with disabilities in our states’ emergency plans.

I think it's important that you have someone with some passion and interest that has the ability to pull people together. It's easy to sit at your desk and just be your own person. You need to have an interest in bringing people together and maybe even use a little humor. It allows people to bring forward their ideas on how life can be better for the disabled community.

This role should continue because it is important to include people with disabilities in state emergency plans so that they are ready for the next pandemic or emergency. And also, so they're included in all of society.

The whole world is focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion—from the business community to our schools to communities to places of employment. And there's not enough emphasis on disability and ensuring that disability is part of those overall strategies. And so, I think this role really needs to continue in order to push disability inclusion into public health.

The disability did not disappear after one year or 18 months. Therefore, it's very important that a grant or funding stream like this extends beyond just this time period. The disability community needs someone to have a seat at the table to make sure the community’s needs are met.

Continuing this type of work is very important because a large portion of our population are people with disabilities, so they're not thought of in a lot of cases, and preparedness is just one of those. So, we need to continue to make sure plans are inclusive, exercises are inclusive, and that this group is taken care of in the future.

I think this role and my role within the state of Missouri have had a tremendous impact on Missourians, individuals with disabilities, their families, and caregivers. What we did through this program, and through promoting disability inclusion and public health, was to put people with disabilities first and foremost in what we were able to respond to in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about ASTHO’s disability inclusion work by visiting ASTHO.org and searching “Embedded.”

Many thanks to David Carey, Sydney Clark, Ashley Helsing, Charles Tanner, and Sara Hart Weir for their contribution to this video.