How Governments Could Best Engage Community Organizations to Co-Design COVID-19 Pandemic Policies for Persons with Disabilities


  • Ash Seth
  • Meaghan Edwards
  • Katrina Milaney
  • Jennifer Zwicker University of Calgary



The COVID-19 pandemic and the policy measures adopted in response have disproportionately impacted persons with disabilities. Given the increased risk of COVID-19 and the resulting health impact for this vulnerable population, governments must engage stakeholders such as community organizations

to co-design pandemic response plans. Collaboration with key stakeholders could assist in transforming services in crucial areas, such as health, where emergency policies are organized around the needs of persons with disabilities.

Unfortunately, there is inadequate data collection and insufficient emergency preparedness planning and responses for persons with disabilities. This knowledge gap means consideration of health and social policy implications specific to the needs and experiences of persons with disabilities is lacking. This research study aimed to evaluate strategies through which decision-makers could engage stakeholders, such as community organizations, to co-design disability-inclusive policy responses during the COVID-19 outbreak in Alberta.

Through interviews, the study focused on understanding the level of engagement, barriers to community organizations’ engagement and participatory policy aspects best suited for co-design. Key findings from the research highlighted the participants’ viewpoints on barriers, facilitators, preferences and other critical approaches through which decision-makers engage with community organizations. Results highlighted that top-down and tokenistic consultation approaches limit community organizations’ engagement in designing pandemic planning and response. Inaccessible ways of consultation and navigation barriers exacerbate obstacles to stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement in data surveillance efforts was unclear, and the impact assessment process needs strengthening. The study results also showed that having COVID-19 disability advisory groups at the federal and provincial levels are a robust mechanism to connect communities with the government. However, the process of influencing government decision-making and policy actions needs to be openly communicated to civil society.

Solutions are achievable. Political commitment, long-term investments and an accessible engagement environment would significantly improve stakeholder engagement. Governments must transition from traditional consultative methods to sustainable engagement practices while sharing how public policies reflect communities’ input. Financial investments must create an accessible consultation environment for designing participatory pandemic policies that reflect the priorities of persons with disabilities.

Some key recommendations emerging from our analysis include:

  • Invest financially to create an accessible consultation environment for co- designing policies.

  • Consult stakeholders to develop new regulations or adjust existing ones to create inclusive pandemic response plans.

  • Inform how pandemic response plans include and address community inputs and concerns in a transparent manner.

  • Professionally contract stakeholders to co-design and communicate pandemic information.

  • Engage with multiple stakeholders to evaluate the impact of pandemic response plans.






Research Papers