Illinois and Partners: Working Toward a Common Goal

Carla Cox, MPH, CHES, of the Illinois Department of Public Health, Division of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, talks about program goals, challenges and doing a job with meaning.

What is your goal for the first year of the grant?*

The goal of the Illinois Disability and Health Program is to reduce and prevent secondary conditions (including pain, fatigue, depression, obesity, and chronic health problems that are related to or exacerbated by primary disability) among Illinois citizens with mobility disabilities and to improve their health, well-being and quality of life.

Our goals for the first grant year are:

  • To strengthen our capacity by reconvening our existing partnership, a statewide advisory group for the project that includes disability advocacy organizations, other state departments, local health departments, health advocacy organizations, and university-based programs that was initiated in 2005, and to recruit new partners
  • To collaborate with other chronic disease programs within the Illinois Department of Public Health, as well as external partners, to deliver health education to persons with disabilities and to health care providers
  • To develop four work groups – Surveillance and Data, Health Promotion, Professional Education, and Service and Accessibility – to plan and implement activities targeting health promotion of persons with disability
  • To increase communication among partners
  • To publish an Illinois Disability and Health State Plan, which our partners helped develop, as well as an Illinois Disability and Health Data Report, to increase awareness of health- related issues surrounding disability.

What are your goals for remaining years?

The goals for the remaining years of the grant will be to implement activities outlined in the state plan through grant funding and seek additional funding sources. State plan activities include implementing health promotion activities targeting persons with mobility disabilities and health care providers.

What do you view as your biggest challenge(s) to achieving your goals?

Implementing specific interventions and activities with limited funding will be a challenge. The partnership provides experience and a multitude of contacts from different organizations who share common goals. Hopefully, this will enable us to find creative ways to conduct state and local projects.

What do you view as the biggest challenge(s) facing people with disabilities now? In the future?

Previous focus group interviews have found that the challenges facing persons with disabilities include access to health care, health education opportunities and health screenings, either because of lack of accessible transportation, lack of health care coverage, or lack of understanding by the providers of the needs of persons with disabilities. Focus group participants have said that providers often view them and their health exclusively in terms of their disability, rather than as people who need the same preventive health care as everyone else.

Who will be working on the CDC grant?

The Illinois Department of Public Health, Office of Health Promotion, Division of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, will take the lead on this project in partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Disability and Human Development. However, the real work of the grant will require the efforts of many dedicated partners working together.

Which aspects of the project do you find most exciting or meaningful?

The most meaningful aspect of the project is bringing people together to achieve a common goal: promoting healthy lifestyles and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities through better access to health education resources and health screenings. Many dedicated professionals are working hard to serve people with disabilities, but it can be difficult to get collaboration started. Everyone wants to work together, but many just don’t know how or where to start.

There are excellent health resources available, but people with disabilities are often overlooked and not viewed as a specific target group with the same health needs as the non-disabled population. Finding ways to provide access to persons with disabilities will be rewarding. Agencies that advocate for the needs of persons with disabilities often focus on housing, transportation, and workplace issues, and health promotion has not been a priority. Including health promotion as an option for these organizations to offer to their clients will be very rewarding as well.