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Disability Equity Center, Empowers, Informs, Unites

When the COVID-19 vaccine first became available, Laura Estreich (pictured at right), a young woman from Corvallis with Down syndrome, relied on an expert source for health information. 

Her mom is a pharmacy professional. But lots of people she knows had questions and there were also rumors and myths.

Estreich is a student in the Wings Transition Program in the Corvallis School District and is also an intern with the Disability Equity Center, a grassroots disability justice organization providing inclusive and cultural resources to meet the diverse needs of people with disabilities.

Disability Equity Center is addressing gaps in health care delivery, educating health care providers and improving partnerships within disability support services through a 2021 Delivery System Transformation pilot project with Intercommunity Health Network Coordinated Care Organization serving Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties. One of the health outcomes the pilot targets is to ensure that people with disabilities are actively engaged in their health care.

In February, leveraging Estreich’s family connection and Disability Equity Center’s community partnership with Cornerstone Associates, an organization serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, an online presentation was planned for people to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cornerstone’s community health nurse worked with Estreich to plan the meeting. People with disabilities were invited to ask questions. 

“And to know your rights,” Estreich emphasized.

Misha Marie is community engagement manager with Cornerstone, and is also involved with Disability Equity Center. She called the vaccine presentation a “lightbulb moment.”

“Partnering with them to create that and share it back in the community was just a really lovely collaboration,” Marie said. 

The pilot project is finding new ways for people with disabilities to understand the care they receive. Another aspect is educating health care providers about how to improve communication for people with disabilities.

Marie recalled a Disability Equity Center meeting where people with disabilities, family members, allies and health providers discussed how a very small number of people with disabilities are eligible for formal services.

“It shifted my whole view. Absolutely, we need to find a way to support our whole community.”

Disability Equity Center organizers want to break down silos, bridge gaps and unite people, groups and organizations in new ways. 

“Through the Disability Equity Center, we are reducing stigma, raising awareness and increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to be as healthy as possible,” said Disability Equity Center co founder Allison Hobgood.

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