DHERN Disability Health Equity Paper Awards

DHERN 2023 Paper Award Competition Announcement

  • We will provide two awards to papers related to disability health equity, broadly defined. The nominee must be an undergraduate student, graduate student, or a postdoctoral researcher at the time of paper acceptance or publication, and must be the first author on the paper (co-authorship is permitted with student or faculty co-author(s). The paper must have been published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in 2022 or 2023.
  • Each awardee will receive $500 and will present a summary of their paper at the DHERN meeting on Tuesday, January 23, 2024, 2:00-3:00 PM EST.
  • One entry is permitted per nominee. Self-nominations will be accepted. The deadline for nominations is 5:00 PM on Friday, December 1, 2023.
  • Email paper and nomination letter to sdlandes@syr.edu.

Prior Award Winners

2022 Winners

Sabrina Epstein, BA

Epstein, S., Campanile, J., Cerilli, C., Gajwani, P., Varadaraj, V., & Swenor, B. K. (2021). New obstacles and widening gaps: A qualitative study of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. adults with disabilities. Disability and Health Journal, 14(3), 101103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2021.101103


Prior research has demonstrated that the needs of the disability community have not been met during public health emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities for many populations including people with disabilities, and data is needed to develop inclusive public health response policies.

To identify how COVID-19 has uniquely impacted the lives of adults with disabilities.

38 participants were recruited through disability advocacy groups and social media. Semi-structured virtual focus groups were conducted with adults (≥18 years) who self-identified as having a disability. Focus groups were conducted for each of six disability sub-groups: vision, hearing, mobility and physical, mental health, cognitive, intellectual, and developmental, and chronic illness. Using inductive coding, major themes were identified and compared across the disability sub-groups.

Three major themes and thirteen sub-themes were identified from the focus groups. The three major themes comprised: new problems created by the pandemic, obstacles in daily life that were exacerbated by the pandemic, and broader changes to accessibility and disability identity. Sub-themes such as difficulty with COVID-19 testing and regular medical care were reported by participants of all disability sub-groups, while other sub-themes like direct care needs and medical rationing were reported by participants from a subset of the disability sub-groups.

These results indicate how the COVID-19 pandemic unequally impacts disabled people. The participants indicated that to fully address their needs, disability perspectives must be included in the public health pandemic response. As new research shows that COVID-19 can cause long-term disability, the urgency to ensure the disability community is part of public health policies will increase.

Lauren Bixby, MA

Bixby, L., Bevan, S., & Boen, C. (2022). The links between disability, incarceration, and Social Exclusion. Health Affairs, 41(10), 1460–1469. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2022.00495


Disabled people are disproportionately incarcerated and segregated from society through a variety of institutions. Still, the links between disability and incarceration are underexplored, limiting understanding of how carceral institutions punish and contribute to the social exclusion of disabled people. Using data from the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, we estimated disability prevalence in state and federal prisons, assessing disparities by race, ethnicity, and sex, and we examined inequities in previous residence in other “punitive” and “therapeutic” institutions. Sixty-six percent of incarcerated people self-reported a disability, with Black, Hispanic, and multiracial disabled men especially overrepresented in prisons. Compared with nondisabled incarcerated people, disabled incarcerated people were more likely to have previously resided in other institutions, such as juvenile detention facilities and psychiatric hospitals. Together, our findings advance the understanding of disability in carceral institutions, highlighting the need for policy interventions redressing the mechanisms contributing to the high incarceration risks of disabled people and the disabling nature of prisons and other carceral institutions.

Hussaini Zandam, PhD

Zandam, H., Mitra, M., Akobirshoev, I., Li, F. S., & Ne’eman, A. (2022). Infectious diseases-related emergency department visits among non-elderly adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States: Results from the National Emergency Department sample, 2016. Population Health Management, 25(3), 335–342. https://doi.org/10.1089/pop.2021.0218


Emerging evidence on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) points to the underlying risk and burden of infectious diseases (IDs) in this population. The objective of this study was to examine the risk of ID-related emergency department (ED) visits, subsequent hospitalizations, and hospital-based mortality during ID-related visits among adults with IDD compared to those without IDD. The authors conducted a retrospective study using data from the 2016 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. The sample included 94,928 adults with IDD identified using ICD-10-CM codes, and age- and sex-matched 284,763 non-IDD adults in a 1:3 case-control ratio. A Poisson regression model was used to compare the risk of ID-related ED visits, subsequent hospitalizations, and hospital-based mortality during ID-related visits between adults with and without IDD. Covariates included sociodemographic and hospital characteristics. Results showed that adults with IDD are at a higher risk for ID-related ED visits, subsequent hospitalization, and mortality during ID-related ED visits compared to non-IDD adults. Adults with IDD continued to experience higher risks even after accounting for sociodemographic, hospital, and clinical characteristics. Septicemia and respiratory tract infections are the leading causes of ED visits, hospitalization, and mortality. This study found substantial disparities in ID-related ED visits, subsequent hospitalization, and mortality among the burdens for adults with IDD. These observations underscore the importance of integrated strategies to reduce ID-related morbidity among adults with IDD.