Research shows that people with intellectual disabilities face disproportionate risks in the event of a public health emergency or disaster.1 People with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be unprepared or left behind during a disaster, and federal, state and local emergency response plans often overlook the needs of this population.2 In Plattsburgh, New York, the Clinton County Health Department set out to shift that dynamic, engaging local advocates and community members in adopting inclusive preparedness competencies and creating a more inclusive emergency response plan. One way to address those gaps is to ensure equitable access to mainstream systems and services.
Every year, like most health departments, the Clinton County Health Department in upstate New York participates in emergency preparedness drills as part of nationwide efforts to keep public health systems ready for disasters and disease outbreaks. The agency’s full-scale community drills test a range of emergency response skills, but each year, the state challenges local health officials to stress and test a particular capacity. About four years ago, that challenge focused on making sure health departments effectively included and served residents with intellectual disabilities during a public health emergency. “You really don’t know how someone with an intellectual disability will navigate your flow path or understand your messaging until you test it in real life,” said Margaret Searing, RN, Quality Coordinator at the Clinton County Health Department. “It’s been a huge learning experience for us.”
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