The NYC Elder Abuse Center at Weill Cornell Medicine is highlighting organizations that are making advancements in the field of racial equity within the elder justice field. This month, we feature the Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC). Founded in 2010, the DEC advocates for policies and programs that improve aging and remove barriers in communities of racially and ethnically diverse people. The DEC documents and educates on the experiences of racially and ethnically diverse older adults which aids justice organizations like NYCEAC/WCM in identifying the current and shifting needs of older adults and developing practices that meet those needs.
The DEC is made of 6 member organizations representing a growing majority of millions of older adults throughout the country:
- National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA)
- National Caucus and Center on Black Aging (NCBA)
- National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA)
- National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA)
- SAGE Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
- Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
On their website, the DEC describes their organization as:
“[coming] together to promote policy changes and programmatic solutions that respond to this demographic shift and will remove the barriers facing our communities. We envision a world where all older adults can live full and active lives as they age.”
Much of the DEC’s work is rooted in sharing stories. The DEC uses stories to increase public support for issues affecting these communities and calling on legislators to strengthen and protect programs that are essential to the health and dignity of diverse older adults. For example, in 2016 the DEC released a report titled “Aging with Health and Dignity: Diverse Elders Speak Up” at a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C. The report synthesized nearly 5,000 comments from older adults, their families, and advocates, detailing the challenges and resiliencies of elder communities with unique needs that are often ignored in mainstream policy discussions around aging including: American Indian/Alaska Native elders, Asian American elders, Pacific Islander elders, Native Hawaiian elders, Black and African American elders, Hispanic and Latino elders, and LGBTQ elders.
The DEC works to educate and connect diverse older adults and their loved ones to key policy debates on aging, by working to overcome the challenges that exist in reaching this community which includes language, geography, and historical marginalization and trauma. The DEC develops and advocates for culturally competent, linguistically diverse, person-centered programming. Historically, the DEC has been committed to raising awareness about the Affordable Care Act to make sure that everyone in their communities who needs to access appropriate health care coverage is able to do so.
Through its Caregiving Project, DEC addresses growing, yet unmet, elder caregiving needs in diverse communities by educating and training professionals, providing information and resources to elder caregivers and caregiver recipients, and advocating for needed changes in policies and programs. The DEC developed a cultural competency curriculum to improve the multicultural capacities of health care providers, social service providers, and aging-focused organizations serving diverse family caregivers. This curriculum was developed through a multidisciplinary approach that synthesized findings from the DEC’s original research (literature review, interviews and feedback from providers across the country, focus groups with diverse family caregivers, and a nationwide caregiving survey), the expertise of member organizations, and conversations with diverse family caregivers themselves. Since COVID-19, the DEC adapted the curriculum to reflect the long-lasting impacts on culturally competent care for diverse caregivers and their loved ones that COVID-19 will likely bring. The DEC will be sharing this curriculum through articles and seminars in collaboration with the American Society on Aging.
As the world continues to navigate the pandemic, the DEC has responded to the disproportionate impact on diverse elders by shifting their focus from dissemination of research and curricula to providing resources and information to and regarding diverse family caregivers through their COVID-19 resource hub. The resource hub is regularly updated with new information and virtual listening sessions provide opportunities to learn more about diverse family caregivers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, the DEC maintains a blog that amplifies the voices, experiences, and wisdom of racially and ethnically diverse older adults, and LGBT older adults, by featuring stories by diverse elders, their families, and advocates. Whether about aging as a queer person of color, navigating mental health as a Khmer social worker, or the high risk of layoffs for older Black workers, the DEC makes sure to amplify voices that have been historically undervalued and/or ignored.