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People with Disabilities: Living Healthy

Today, about 50 million Americans, or 1 in 5 people, are living with at least one disability, and most Americans will experience a disability some time during the course of their lives. Anyone can have a disability.

People with disabilities face many barriers to good health. Studies show that individuals with disabilities are more likely than people without disabilities to report:

  • Having poorer overall health.
  • Having less access to adequate health care.
  • Having no access to health insurance.
  • Skipping medical care because cost.
  • Engaging in risky health behaviors, including smoking and physical inactivity.

People with disabilities can lead long healthy lives. Many can and do go to school and attend places of worship. They also vote, marry, have children, work, and play. Having a disability does not mean a person can't be healthy.

People with or without disabilities can stay healthy by having health care access and living healthy lifestyles.

To be healthy, people with disabilities require health care that meets their needs as a whole person, not just as a person with a disability.

Learn What You Can Do

Person with Disability:

Make Sure You are Getting the Best Possible Healthcare

There are also many things you can do to make sure you are getting the best possible health care:

  • Know your body, how you feel when you're well and when you're not.
  • Get regular preventive screenings (e.g., mammograms, prostate, colorectal)
  • Talk openly with your health care professional about your concerns.
  • Find out who the best health care professionals are in your area to meet your needs.
  • Check to be sure you can get into your health care professional's office and that he or she has the staff and equipment you need.
  • Think through your concerns before you visit your health care professional.
  • Bring your health records with you.
  • Take a friend with you, if you're concerned you might not remember all your questions and all the answers.
  • Get it in writing. Write down, or have someone write down for you, what is said by the health care professional.
  • Ask for help finding more information through materials like brochures, or at specific Web pages on the Internet.

Photo: A man exercisingTips for Leading a Long and Healthy Life

Children and adults with disabilities are less likely to be of healthy weight and more likely to be obese than children and adults without disabilities.

Overweight and obesity can have serious health consequences for all people. Learn more…

  • Eat healthy foods in healthy portions.
  • Be physically active every day.
  • Don't get too much sun.
  • Get regular checkups.
  • Don't smoke or use illegal drugs.
  • Use medicines wisely.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends.
  • If you need help, talk with your healthcare professional.

Tips for Getting Physically Fit

To be healthy, all adults should be physically active 30 minutes a day at least 5 days each week; all children should be active for 60 minutes a day, at least 5 days each week.

  • Set physical activity goals that you can reach.
  • Track what you do.
  • Reward yourself when you meet your goals.
  • Seek support from your friends and family members. Ask them to join you in your activities.
  • Don't give up. If you miss a day, don't quit. Just start again.

For more tips and information on disability and health, you can read The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities: What It Means to You. Also called the "People's Piece," it provides helpful ways to improve everyone's knowledge about the health and wellness of people with disabilities

Video capture: Mark's story

Video: Mark's Story

This video tells the story of Mark and his role as a person helping future health care providers improve their care of people with disabilities. The intent of this video is not to endorse specific activities, but to share one man's story, experience, and hope.

Improve the Health and Wellness of People with Disabilities

Health Care Provider:

You can do a lot to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities. For instance, you can:

  • Address the medical needs of the whole person, not just the disability.
  • Be as attentive to concerns of pain, depression, job pressures, smoking and alcohol use as you are with all patients.
  • Be aware and patient of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to speak or act.
  • Recommend and monitor clinical preventive services as closely as will other patients.
  • Know that the facilities you refer patients to for preventive screenings (e.g., mammograms) are accessible.
  • Ensure that your facility is fully accessible (e.g., parking, exam tables, restrooms, etc).
  • Ask the person with a disability if he or she needs any help. Do not assume help is needed.
  • Understand that not having access to work, school, health care, or fun things to do can cause more problems than a disability itself.
  • Seek training on disability competence for health professionals.

More Information

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