August 31, 2020

A New Tool to Measure the Impact of COVID-19 on the Lives of People With Disabilities

A team of U-M disability researchers have developed a survey that will help others quantify the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of people with disabilities.

Grocery store check out counter, worker scanning groceries while wearing a mask


The pandemic has touched all aspects of human life, from how we work and learn, to how we navigate our health and basic needs. Health, policy, and economics experts are gathering data—studying the pandemic’s impact in real time—in order to direct public health and policy decisions. However, the current tools available may fail to capture the unique experiences of people with disabilities. And as a result, data on the experiences of people with disabilities during the pandemic is not being reported or is underreported. 

Researchers from the University of Michigan Center for Disability Health and Wellness (CDHW), including Michael M. McKee, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of family medicine, mobilized a team of experts to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t left behind in the coming wave of research to understand the immediate and long term impact of COVID-19. 

Joshua Ehrlich, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Michigan, led the interdisciplinary team of disability research experts, including McKee and fellow U-M CDHW researchers Michelle Meade, Ph.D., Clive D’Souza, Ph.D., and Sheryl S. Ulin, Ph.D., to develop a novel survey instrument that can be used to record data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the experiences of people with disabilities. 

The COVID-19 Disability Survey or COV-DIS is a 34-item survey that contains both novel questions and questions derived from publicly available nationally-representative data sets, like the Understanding America Study and the Health and Retirement Study. Therefore, some data collected with the COV-DIS can be readily harmonized to make comparisons with large and representative samples.

Ehrlich, McKee and their interdisciplinary disability health research team are currently using the COV-DIS survey to carry out research on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities in southeast Michigan. The data collected will provide critical insights into how the pandemic and pandemic response are affecting the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities in the region.

The COV-DIS survey is freely and publicly available online and a description of the survey development process was published as a short article in the International Journal of Public Health. While not required, the authors request that COV-DIS users share their experiences with the novel survey instrument.

The COV-DIS team’s paper “Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities: development of a novel survey,” includes Alec Bernard, Sara Weiss, Joshua D. Stein, Sheryl S. Ulin, Clive D’Souza, Anah Salgat, Kate Panzer, Anne Riddering, Paul Edwards,Michelle Meade, Michael M. McKee, and Joshua R. Ehrlich.

Article Citation: Bernard A, Weiss S, Stein JD, et al. Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities: development of a novel survey. International Journal of Public Health. 2020;65(6):755-757. doi:10.1007/s00038-020-01433-z.