Easing the Vaccination Process for People with Developmental Disabilities

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The COVID-19 incident period ended on May 11, 2023. FEMA will continue to provide funeral assistance until Sept. 30, 2025, to those who have lost loved ones due to this pandemic.

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Linda Mastandrea, Director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, shares the importance of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. This is a good time to think about how we can include people with developmental disabilities in emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts — including COVID-19 vaccination center operations. 

FEMA’s disability integration advisors and regional disability integration specialists help support all people with disabilities, including people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) who come to vaccination centers. Regional Disability Integration Specialists coordinate ongoing efforts in each of FEMA’s ten regions and Disability Integration Advisors are deployed to support wherever they are needed across the nation.

FEMA Disability Integration Advisor Juli Gallup recently shared some promising practices at Center City Vaccination Center, a community vaccination center (CVC) in Philadelphia. These practices will accommodate people with I/DD by identifying and serving them as expedited guests.

“We recognized the need to provide additional support for individuals with developmental disabilities at the CVC,” said Gallup. “We trained our CVC staff to look for signs such as visible anxiety and to initiate conversations that provide them opportunities to share self-identified needs. At that point, we can further assess and better serve people with disabilities who need the vaccination process to flow quickly and efficiently.”

Identifying people who have disabilities and making sure they have access to and can participate in FEMA's programs and services, including during the vaccination process is part of the mission of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination — helping people with disabilities before, during and after disasters.

Once identified, people with I/DD are escorted through the CVC as expedited guests. This process is designed to reduce the amount of time they must wait to register and receive the vaccination. 

During the expedited process the guest is:

  • Escorted to the front of the line where their appointment is confirmed.
  • Assigned an escort who alerts the registration area that an expedited guest is on the way.
  • Taken immediately to the registration table where they are registered, and then accompanied to the vaccination area.
  • Offered a privacy area or an observation area while they wait.

“The privacy booths help to diffuse the noise and activity of the CVC,” said Gallup. That privacy extends to the nomenclature too, as the use of “expedited guest” was chosen to prevent disclosure of the individual’s disability.

Gallup says the FEMA team have also set up a sensory area to offer further comfort by providing alternative seating options, noise canceling headphones, stress balls, a rug or room dividers to create a smaller and less stimulating environment. 

“At this location in Pennsylvania, the expedited guest process has been used successfully for people with autism, developmental disabilities, an individual who’d had a heart transplant and individuals who have visible anxiety,” said Gallup. 

This promising practice is one way FEMA teams are ensuring people with I/DD can receive their vaccines quickly and easily.


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Proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a time to highlight inclusion, contributions and togetherness for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, also called I/DD, is a broader category of often lifelong disability. I/DD can be intellectual, physical or both, and can impact the individual’s physical, intellectual and/or emotional development.

Developmental disabilities may include things like cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. People with developmental disabilities may experience sensory issues, behavioral difficulties, speech and language issues or difficulties processing information.

For people with developmental disabilities who also have sensory sensitivity, navigating large, bustling, highly populated or noisy areas — like a community vaccination center — can pose significant challenges.

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