Centers for Disease Control and Prevention DHDSInstantAtlas_Free_Trial_Download

“How the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has used data reporting and visualization to develop its Disability and Health Data System (DHDS)”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a government agency that was set up to protect health and promote quality of life through the prevention and control of disease, injury, and disability. Part of its work is to harvest expertise and information that will allow it to create tools that people and communities need to protect their health.

The CDC’s Disability and Health Program promotes health and wellness amongst people with disabilities. Presenting state level data on the health and health outcomes of people with disabilities is an important part of the program and has led to the development of Disability and Health Data System (DHDS). This is a state level disability surveillance tool designed to assist partners, researchers and the general public in the assessment of the health and wellness of people with disabilities.

This tool was developed by the CDC in the Division of Human Development and Disability (DHDD) at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD). It was developed under the direction of Brian Armour, Alissa Cyrus, and Michelle Sloan of the Disability Research and Epidemiology Team within the DHDD.

Getting started

The team behind the tool explains that data visualization has played an important part in its development. “One of our aims was to allow users to pull up information on health outcomes for people with disabilities in an easy-to-access way,” says Brian Armour.

“The CDC had a customisable solution but we felt this was going to be too expensive to develop. We heard about InstantAtlas by word of mouth and having seen it we liked the idea that we would be able to make changes and updates easily as the site evolved.”

Brian says that getting the data ready to use took some time because of its sheer volume. The DHDS features three types of data: disability, psychological distress, and disability-associated health care expenditures all of which has been compiled over a five year period.

The site was developed so data can be viewed in interactive maps and in data tables. Information is presented to users in a variety of accessible formats, including: standard- or high-contrast interactive maps and data tables that can be customized or downloaded. The data are also organised into overarching categories that are further split into specific health outcomes such as smoking, body mass index, and alcohol use.

Meeting the need

“The tool was built with our partners in mind and this meant it had to be user-friendly, customisable and the data had to be easy to find,” says Brian. “We anticipated there would be users outside these groups who were lower-level users of statistical information. We also worked very hard with key users, particularly people with disabilities. That led us to develop high-contrast maps that were easier for users with visual impairments to see. We have also included easy-to-understand information about how to use the tool,” says Brian.

“We have had really good response. In particular, people have said that they are happy with the data that is available. This is the first time they have been able to access state–level disability data, so it is meeting a previously unmet need.”

Along with the positive feedback, some individuals have also made suggestions for additions that could be included. “Using InstantAtlas has positioned us well and we are seen as an innovator by other health programs. We have had a number of them ask us for demonstrations and help with developing their own data systems.”

Future developments

The next big development for the team is to include profiles that will allow states to assess the health of people with disabilities across a number of indicators. This is important for those states looking to meet US public health goals and to monitor performance.

CDC Disability Data Single Map Report

Key benefits

  • DHDS has taken data, presented it in an accessible format so that it can be used to improve health and wellness for people living with disabilities in the US.
  • Data are now provided in a consistent and standardized format that enable accurate state-by-state comparisons
  • The team has used data visualization to develop the first ever state level disability surveillance system

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