COVID 19 Response/Emergency Management

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the economic and quality-of-life disparities Americans with disabilities face. Empowered Cities’ municipal leaders are stepping up to meet their constituents’ urgent needs for accessible public health information, food, and personal protective equipment, expanding their efforts to make basic services inclusive of all people.


Select an icon below to learn more about the work of Empowered Cities.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) logo
Food Insecurity logo
Communication logo
Accessibility logo
Healthcare logo

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Boston — CPWD used EC funding to purchase 500 clear face masks for residents who are deaf or hard of hearing.  These masks were produced by the costume shop of a local theater, supporting this cultural venue during the economic shutdown. 

Chicago — Chicago MOPD advocated to ensure that clear masks were included in PPE procurement.  The Office distributed these clears masks to city residents who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Los Angeles — DOD secured nearly 1 million units of PPE during the pandemic and provided 1,000 bags of PPE to low-income individuals and families with disabilities at drive-thru distribution events.   DOD also used EC funding to purchase and distribute discounted supplies.

New York City — NYC MOPD distributed over 187,600 masks, 219,000 gloves and 2,000 gowns to 70 nonprofits, home health care attendants and over 6,500 individuals, and distributed 5,000 clear masks to the Deaf community. Using EC funding, MOPD provided PPE by mail to individuals and nonprofits early in the pandemic when delivery options were limited. MOPD also facilitated an in-kind donation of 25,000 masks for the Department of Education’s Special Education schools.

San Francisco — San Francisco used Empowered Cities funding to purchase and distribute masks, face shields, gloves and other PPE to city residents with disabilities who did not have access to these supplies through another city program or service. 476 PPE kits were distributed to residents, and additional PPE was provided to nonprofits serving individuals with disabilities.

Food Insecurity

Food Insecurity

Chicago — Chicago MOPD is partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository (Chicago’s food bank) to ensure that the city’s food programs are inclusive of Chicagoans with disabilities. 

Los Angeles — In response to the sharp increase in food insecurity, DOD launched a meal program and provided 237,500 meals to Angelinos with disabilities and their families. DOD also provided 1,000 boxes of non-perishable food and hygienic supplies during its PPE Drive-Thru events. Empowered Cities funding was used to support the initial launch of the meal program. DOD secured CARES Act funding for the second phase of the program and will advocate for a long-term meal program and greater inclusion of residents with disabilities in the city’s food initiatives.

New York City — NYC MOPD worked across multiple agencies to provide emergency food deliveries to food-insecure residents with disabilities who were unable to pick up meals from the City’s meal program sites. Thousands of out-of-work taxi drivers were paid to deliver free emergency meals. At the height of the pandemic, drivers were delivering over one million meals per day to seniors and people with disabilities.

San Francisco — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Francisco has expanded its food assistance programs and adapted to new safety protocols. Assistance includes home-delivered meals, emergency food boxes, support with online food delivery services, and grocery drop-off by volunteers. The City is now distributing 300,000 meals a month to older adults and people with disabilities.



The five Empowered Cities launched COVID-19 online resource hubs to connect individuals with disabilities to the latest public health information and city services.  Each city partners with emergency management and health departments to ensure all city communication is accessible for people with disabilities.

Chicago — In response to the shift to virtual programming, Chicago MOPD has worked to ensure communication access by providing Video Remote Interpreting and Open Captioning through its Zoom platform. Chicago MOPD has also advocated for communication access in City communications, including ASL interpretation at all COVID-19-related press conferences.

Boston — CPWD launched an ASL Mentoring Program to train certified American Sign Language interpreters for press conferences and other public events. This initiative was created to ensure ASL interpreters would be available for daily press conferences held by the Mayor and other City officials. CPWD was able to secure ASL interpreters for 100% of the daily press conferences held during the initial year of the pandemic.

Los Angeles — DOD used Empowered Cities funding to provide sign language interpreters for all of the Mayor’s public health updates, both live and recorded. The Department is also providing sign language interpreting and captioning for the city’s remote public meetings and COVID-19 announcements.

New York City — NYC MOPD held weekly community calls on Covid-19 awareness, bringing together constituents and nonprofits with representatives from city agencies to address concerns and provide up-to-date information on healthcare, transportation, food and PPE distribution and vaccines.

NYC MOPD utilized video conferencing platforms to communicate with constituents who are Deaf or hard of hearing.   NYC MOPD made all services—including community conferences and weekly COVID-19 awareness calls, employment and job readiness workshops and seminars, and one-on-one meetings with NYC: ATWORK participants—available through video conference. MOPD continues to meet the increased demand for ASL interpretation and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) for Deaf or hard of hearing constituents with Empowered Cities funding.



As the pandemic gave rise to new uses for public spaces, Empowered Cities municipal leaders have worked to make these spaces accessible for individuals with disabilities. 

Boston — CPWD used Empowered Cities funding to purchase 175 portable ramps for restaurants that set up outdoor dining in on-street parking lanes. The ramps were prioritized for minority-owned and women-owned restaurants, as well as restaurants that are located in underserved neighborhoods. CPWD also offered ramps to bodegas, corner markets, and food pantries.

San Francisco — San Francisco’s Shared Spaces program was created for local businesses to provide services outdoors safely during the COVID-19 pandemic by using the sidewalk or parking lane.  The program is designed to ensure the accessibility of the outdoor spaces.  Not only did the Shared Spaces Design Guidelines include comprehensive accessibility information, the City launched an online accessibility guide with clear and actionable protocols for business owners.

During San Francisco’s shelter-in-place period, the City launched a new temporary program to assist seniors and adults with disabilities who must travel for essential needs. The Essential Trip Card (ETC) program uses taxis to take people on essential trips to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor’s office. Eligible participants pay only 20% of the cost of a regular taxi fare for essential trips.  The program made additional reduced rides available for COVID-19 vaccination appointments.



Empowered Cities municipal leaders in Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities have worked with public health partners to make sure that COVID-19 and testing and vaccine distribution sites are fully accessible for individuals with disabilities. 

Boston — CPWD is providing COVID Care Kits to 5,000 residents with disabilities. These kits include both disposable and washable cloth masks, hand sanitizer, thermometers, and blood oxidation monitors, along with information on COVID-19 testing, safety, food resources, utility assistance, eviction protections, and more. 

Chicago — Chicago MOPD has worked with its partners at the Chicago Department of Public Health to make the City’s COVID-19 testing sites fully accessible to residents with disabilities. They developed a smooth process for people who use Pace Paratransit, made clear masks available for those who are Deaf and hard of hearing, and created a tip sheet on how to communicate with individuals with disabilities.

Now that the City is operating vaccine distribution sites, Chicago MOPD has worked to ensure communication access is provided, including American Sign Language interpretation, through on-site ASL interpreters and through Video Remote Interpreting (VRI). The office has also developed a social story about the vaccine experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; coordinated with Pace Paratransit; worked with 18 disability organizations to set up blocks of vaccine appointments for residents with disabilities at its largest vaccination site, United Center; and convened bi-weekly working group meetings with residents with disabilities and advocates from the disability community.

New York City — NYC Parks developed a resource with outdoor activities that maintain social distancing and with virtual workout sessions people with disabilities can do at home with items they have on hand.

NYC MOPD's website has compiled resources on vaccine sites and connected home-bound individuals and their families and home care providers to vaccine appointments.