VaxAbilities Clinics Provide Positive Solutions For The Disability Community

Mar 22, 2023

hands holding a vaccine vileRemember what it was like to be a kid and needing to get a shot at the doctor’s office? Chances are, it was probably not your favorite activity.

For many people with disabilities, especially children, getting a shot can become so traumatizing that it prevents the individual from becoming vaccinated. Often parents don’t know where to turn when the usual vaccination channels don’t address sensory issues and other challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and their families.

An initiative led by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at the UMass Chan Medical School is doing its part to provide vaccination support to the disability community.

The VaxAbilities initiative aims to ensure that people with developmental disabilities and other sensory support needs have the most comfortable and positive vaccination experience possible.

The project was developed in collaboration with the other partners of the Developmental Disabilities Network in Massachusetts, the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston and Boston Children’s Hospital, the Disability Law Center and the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, all of which received funding from the U.S. Administration on Community Living to support vaccinating people with disabilities and their caregivers. While this initiative was originally designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it welcomed people with other types of disabilities of all ages.

The innovative VaxAbilities model uses a team-based approach, bringing together sensory-trained professionals and staff with vaccinating clinicians, and provides training on strategies and the use of materials to support a range of needs for children and adults. A combination of sensory materials, desensitizing materials (such as cold, vibration, and pain blocking devices), along with positioning and coaching strategies provide a more positive, comfortable experience.

A partnership with the MA Executive Offices of Health and Human Services and vaccination vendors allows the VaxAbilities team to provide training, personnel, and material resources to state-sponsored events across the Commonwealth. Clinicians and students from a wide range of disciplines and institutions across the Commonwealth take part. Disciplines include medicine, nursing, and public health, among others.

The VaxAbilities program also matches a core tenet of the Shriver Center’s mission:  prioritizing care and attention for individuals with disabilities and their families, a population who often has additional, unseen difficulties involving medical appointments and receiving vaccinations.  As such, the Vaxabilities program has a future goal of providing safe and comfortable access to other vaccines beyond COVID and helping to normalize the experience of receiving a shot.

To date, over 1,100 vaccinations have been successfully delivered through VaxAbilities clinics.

To learn more about the VaxAbilities project (including dates of future clinics) and read feedback from satisfied parents, please visit