Improving Vaccination Accessibility for Individuals Living with Disabilities

Centering Lived Experience in Los Angeles County

Landmark legislation, such as The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and more recently the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, have for decades worked to prohibit discrimination against people living with disabilities in several areas, including access to state and local government’ programs and services. Yet, individuals living with disabilities continue to face barriers to access and true representation in government policies and processes. These barriers have been amplified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response, including during COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration.

Health leaders from The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s (LADPH) Center for Health Equity are working to address those barriers and improve vaccination accessibility. In partnership with key community stakeholders with lived experience and organizations that serve communities with disabilities, LADPH staff have co-developed and are working to implement a set of core recommendations to improve access to COVID-19 vaccinations for individuals living with disabilities. The recommendations developed are a recognition of the urgent need to develop processes and systems to improve accessibility for communities with disabilities throughout Los Angeles County. The recommendations developed focus on centering the experience of individuals with disabilities and work to ensure that the processes for vaccine distribution go beyond the legal requirements outlined in the ADA, and work to truly ensure access to vaccines and other vital government services for all. While the recommendations and current partnership efforts address current COVID-19 vaccination efforts, these recommendations may also be applied to COVID-19 testing and broader emergency response activities both during COVID-19 and beyond. In this video, we are joined by Heather Jue Northover, LADPH Center for Health Equity Director and Hector Ochoa, Director of Public Policy for the Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living, as they discuss the importance of centering individuals with lived experience in designing vaccine distribution solutions that truly work for all.

Key Partners

  • Los Angeles Department of Public Health, Center for
  • Health Equity – Heather Jue Northover, Director
  • Southern California Resource Services for Independent
  • Living – Hector Ochoa, Director of Public Policy

Key Funding Mechanisms

  • Together Towards Health


  • CHE health leaders played a critical role as conduits for change and key community stakeholders served as channels of communication for health department leadership. These relationships helped build trust and accountability.
    People with lived experiences with disabilities were intentionally identified to ensure representation was balanced, alongside agency staff and other key stakeholders when developing recommendations.
  • CHE conducted a series of focus groups, one specifically focused on designing solutions for individuals living with disabilities, which included representation from local government offices, transportation agencies, and service provider agencies.
    Health leaders acted early on “low-hanging fruit” recommendations and began to implement changes to address accessibility issues of online resources and accessibility barriers at physical vaccination sites.
  • A toll-free number was established to support residents that were unable to use the website to find information and book COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
  • Partner organizations also helped book appointments and provided transportation to and from vaccination sites.
  • LADPH provided resources to partners organizations to support their ongoing engagement to inform equitable strategies for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and to help develop recommendations on how to advance equity at the policy level, on the ground, and through logistics and communications.
  • CHE designated a position that will focus on communities and people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (IDD).

Key Takeaways

  • Addressing accessibility issues for people with disabilities needs to be a concerted effort and go above and beyond the bare minimum outlined in the ADA.
  • Equity strategies that focus initially on individuals with disabilities can also have cross-cutting benefits for other populations such as older adults, low-income communities and communities of color.
  • Providing resources to community groups facilitated longer-term meaningful engagement with health department staff.
  • Recommendations created specifically for the COVID-19 response can be applied more broadly and integrated into the basics of emergency management to ensure a stronger response during future public health and climate emergencies.