ACL has awarded grants that are expected to total nearly $16.5 million over five years to establish and maintain four national resource centers to support the work of advancing equity and inclusion for people with disabilities who also face barriers due to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, language spoken and/or other factors. In addition, ACL has awarded $750,000 in grants to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within a key Medicare fraud-prevention program. Together, these grants total nearly $17.3 million.
Through a cooperative agreement with ACL’s Administration on Disabilities, a coalition led by the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will receive $500,000 each year for five years to establish the National Center on Disability, Equity, and Intersectionality to increase inclusion of people with disabilities and improve the cultural competency of services that support them in communities across the nation. With an ultimate goal of reducing health disparities and inequity in community living, the center’s activities will include directly addressing ableism at the systemic level; developing tools (such as an organizational self-assessment tool) and supporting communities of practice to help transform local systems and organizations; and building the next generation of future leaders of this work through engagement with youth with disabilities. The center’s intersectional approach will also address racism and other forms of discrimination experienced by people with disabilities with multiply marginalized identities. The coalition includes Morehouse School of Medicine, the National Center for Cultural Competence, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The resource center is funded under a cooperative agreement through the Projects of National Significance program.
In addition, three new equity-focused Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) will be created with grants from ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). RRTCs conduct research, provide training and technical assistance, and share information to improve the effectiveness of services authorized under the Rehabilitation Act. These activities are designed to benefit rehabilitation service providers, people with disabilities and their families, and other stakeholders. Each grantee will receive an estimated amount of $933,333 annually for five years. With these grants:
- Brandeis University will create the Community Living Equity Center, which will focus on reducing community living disparities for disabled people of color and other marginalized identities. Through activities including five research projects, the center will develop and share new knowledge about community living and participation disparities; identify or develop promising systems change practices for reducing these disparities; and serve as a national resource to support research on community living and participation that includes people with disabilities from traditionally underserved communities. Partners include the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Justice in Aging, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Human Services Research Institute, the National Center for Cultural Competence, and other national aging and disability organizations.
- Langston University will establish the Employment Equity Center, which will focus on reducing the additional barriers to employment that often are experienced by disabled people who also are marginalized due to other identities. The center will conduct five major studies and related activities guided by people with disabilities from underserved populations. Additionally, they will establish a new researcher mentoring program to provide guidance, training, and assistance to underrepresented research to contribute to scientific workforce diversity efforts. Partners include the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Health and Disability Policy Studies at the University of Kansas, In the Beginning (a business incubator and fund company), Gallaudet University, Center for Transition and Career Innovation for Youth with Disabilities at the University of Maryland College Park, Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana, Kessler Foundation, Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, and the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns.
- The University of Michigan will establish the Health Equity Center to identify and address health care disparities experienced by multiply marginalized people with disabilities. This center will conduct three studies based on existing data and two studies to support the development of interventions to change behaviors of healthcare providers and systems. They also will work with disabled people to conduct training and technical assistance activities for health care professionals and researchers around principles of cultural competence. Key partners include the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, University of Central Florida, Augusta University, and Michigan Disability Rights Coalition.
In addition to their work within their individual areas of focus, the centers will collaborate with each other and the five ACL-funded Minority Aging Technical Assistance and Resource Centers that form the Older Adults Equity Collaborative to share learnings and promising practices.
ACL also has awarded five cooperative agreements to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the administration of five states’ Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) programs. Each grantee received approximately $150,000 for 18-month projects to further diversity, equity, and inclusion in both the overall management of the program and the program’s public education and outreach efforts. Findings and lessons learned through these projects will be shared broadly with other SMP grantees and across the aging and disability networks to facilitate adoption of promising practices in programs across the country.
Finally, over the next five years, ACL will conduct program evaluations and equity assessments of several programs, starting with the national SMP program and the State Health Insurance Assistance Program to analyze each program’s reach and identify any gaps in program coverage. The evaluation will focus on identifying barriers or challenges that people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized and/or adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality may experience in accessing program services or Medicare benefits. The findings will be used to develop action plans to optimize program performance overall and ensure grantees are able to reach those in greatest need of program services.
These projects support President Biden’s Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government and are in keeping with ACL’s long-standing commitment to advancing equity for older adults and people with disabilities. This commitment also is reflected in the following recently announced or ongoing actions:
- Advancing Equity in Disability Research: The final rule governing research funded by ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) contains two significant changes to advance equity. First, revisions to the “Project Staff” peer review criteria that NIDILRR uses to evaluate disability research applications across all of its research programs will allow NIDILRR to better evaluate the extent to which grant applicants conduct outreach to people with disabilities and people from other groups that traditionally have been underserved and underrepresented. Second, the rule makes changes to emphasize the need for appropriate engineering research and development activities within NIDILRR’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) program.
- Meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ older adults: ACL has several ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBTQ+ older adults are fully included in the programs it funds – and that their unique needs are addressed. These include:
- Ensuring LGBTQ+ older adults are represented in data collection: This fall, questions about sexual orientation and gender identity will be included in the annual survey of participants in Older Americans Act programs. ACL also is partnering with SAGE, which operates the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging with funding from ACL, to identify best practices for collecting LGBTQ+ data.
- Strengthening guidance for Older Americans Act Programs: In guidance provided to help states develop their State Plans on Aging, ACL clarified that LGBTQ older adults are included in the Older Americans Act definition of “greatest social need” for the purpose of targeting outreach, service provision, and funding.
- Advancing Equity in Older Americans Act (OAA) Programs: ACL issued a Request for Information this spring, which requested comments from stakeholders on how OAA programs can advance equity in keeping with the President’s executive order. That input is informing the development of new regulations for implementing programs authorized by the OAA. ACL expects to publish the proposed new regulations in the coming months.
- Increasing data on the health of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: The I/DD Counts project is a cross-agency initiative led by ACL to establish and maintain accurate data on the prevalence of I/DD and to improve the collection, analysis and interpretation of health-related data for people with I/DD. This includes collecting information on the intersecting identities of people with I/DD, which will make it possible to identify and address health disparities between different sub-populations. I/DD Counts is currently working with stakeholders to implement a 10-year plan that is guiding the development of a health surveillance system for people with I/DD.