Frontline Initiative: DSPs Responding to Crisis

DSPs are Critical for COVID-19 Vaccine Access and Confidence for People with Disabilities

Author(s)

Danielle Augustin MS, CHWC, is with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities under the National Center on Disability Inclusion and Emergency Preparedness in Silver Spring, MD. Danielle can be reached at daugustin@aucd.org

Adriane Griffen DrPH, MPH, MCHES®, is with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities under the National Center on Disability Inclusion and Emergency Preparedness in Silver Spring, MD.

Lauren Blachowiakare is with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities under the National Center on Disability Inclusion and Emergency Preparedness in Silver Spring, MD.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on the disability community and the caregivers who support them, including direct support professionals (DSPs). A recent study conducted by the Institute on Community Integration and the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals shows that significant percentages of DSPs left the workforce due to fear of infection among themselves or others. They also had difficulties obtaining personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, because DSPs are not designated as essential workers. Although DSPs provide critical care and support to people in every community, they have largely been excluded from conversations about access and equity to COVID-19 services since the pandemic began in March of 2020. This includes testing and vaccination opportunities. The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) recommended inclusion of people with disabilities and the various direct care professionals – paid and unpaid – who serve them in the first phase allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine. Now that we are vaccinating children over age 12, it is even more important to share opportunities for vaccinations so that we can protect those we care about.

To address ongoing issues related to vaccine access and plain-language COVID-19 resources, the AUCD has launched a new public health initiative, COVID-19 Vaccine Access and Confidence for People with Disabilities. This extends their existing inclusive emergency planning efforts called “Prepared4ALL.” This new effort engages 23 AUCD network centers strategically located across the country. The purpose is to reach local communities, reduce access barriers, and promote vaccine confidence for individuals with disabilities and their vital support networks. This project aims to:

  • engage diverse partners to facilitate COVID-19 vaccine conversations,
  • identify barriers to vaccine accessibility,
  • increase vaccine confidence,
  • share credible COVID-19 vaccination information,
  • respond to misinformation,
  • translate information into accessible formats, and
  • share success stories and lessons learned.

This effort will engage key influencers of people with disabilities. This includes families, direct support professionals, and other people with disabilities.

Anecdotally, we know that a key reason many DSPs choose to get vaccinated is to protect their own family members. AUCD is providing communication tools, such as talking points in plain language, social media messaging, and responses to vaccine misinformation to help facilitate these family-based conversations. Outreach efforts to DSPs, people with disabilities, and their family members focused on the weeks between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, when family conversations happen naturally. We have an ambitious goal of vaccinating all people in the disability community who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26.

Along with creating and disseminating accessible COVID-19 information based on community needs, monthly town hall meetings are also hosted and open to any disability professional. These town hall meetings serve as a collaborative and supportive space. This allows for resource and success story sharing, along with peer-to-peer support as communities work towards COVID-19 vaccine access and equity. We invite DSPs to attend these free monthly meetings and connect with others who continue to serve their communities during COVID-19. You can contribute to this rich discussion. The voices of DSPs are critical as we consider how to support our #VaccinatebyADA mission.

To learn more about this effort, please visit our webpage.