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Disability and Access to Health Care

Eye doctor giving eye exam to a person with a disability

For some people with disabilities, access to health care can be challenging. See what health care providers and public health professionals can do to address the barriers that keep adults with disabilities from obtaining the health care services and programs they need to stay healthy.

People with disabilities need health care and public health programs for the same reasons anyone else does—to stay well, active, and a part of the community. However, for some people with disabilities, access to health care can be challenging. According to a recent MMWR report 1 , adults 65 years of age and older with any disability more often reported having health insurance coverage, a usual healthcare provider, and receiving a routine checkup than did younger adults with a disability. In addition, disability-specific disparities in health care access were common, particularly among young (18–44) and middle-aged (45–64) adults. Generally, adults with vision disability reported the least access to health care (i.e. health insurance coverage, usual health care provider, unmet health care need because of cost, and routine check-up within past 12 months) and adults with self-care disability reported the most access to care.

61 million or 1 in 4 adults in the US have some type of disability. The percentage of people living with disabilities is highest in the south. Join CDC and its partners as we work to improve the health of people living with disabilities.

61 million or 1 in 4 adults in the United States have some type of disability. The percentage of people living with disabilities is highest in the south. Join CDC and its partners as we work to improve the health of people living with disabilities.

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People with Disabilities in the United States

One in four U.S. adults is living with a disability. Using data from the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, CDC reported on the number of adults across six disability types:

  • vision (serious difficulty seeing),
  • cognition (serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions),
  • mobility (serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs),
  • self-care (difficulty dressing or bathing),
  • independent living (difficulty doing errands alone),
  • and, for the first time, hearing (serious difficulty hearing).

Mobility disability was the most common disability, reported by approximately 1 in 7 adults, followed by cognition (1 in 10), independent living (1 in 15), hearing (1 in 17), vision (1 in 21), and self-care (1 in 27).

Disability can occur at any point in a person’s life; however, disability is more commonly reported by adults 65 years and older, women, non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives, adults with lower income, and adults living in the South Census region of the United States.

Disability is part of the normal human experience. It is important that all people with disabilities receive the health care and support they need to improve the health and well-being of the entire population. However, disability-specific challenges in accessing health care are common. Health care providers and public health practitioners knowledge of these barriers can help provide strategies to improve health care access and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in disease prevention and health promotion programs.

Disability-Inclusive Health Care

Disability inclusion means ensuring we take into account the needs and engagement of people with disabilities so that everyone can have the same opportunity to participate in all aspects of life to the best of his or her abilities and desires.

Inclusive health applies to both communication and physical access. For instance, health care professionals can be aware of how to effectively communicate with patients who have a range of disabilities, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have a speech, vision, or intellectual disability. Providers can ensure that accessible medical equipment is available for people with disabilities, such as scales, examination tables, or chairs. In addition, providers may want to spend additional time with patients who may need such accommodations during examinations.

Mark, a person with a disability that works to teach medical students how to interact with patients with disabilities has the following advice “listen to your patients, sit down and spend a little time with them, get to know them, look deeper into their lives, and get a better understanding of who they are.”

Watch the video Mark’s Story, a standardized patient working with healthcare providers to teach them how to be inclusive.

See Mark’s story, a standardized patient working with health care providers to teach them how to be inclusive.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities asks that all healthcare providers:

  • Give each patient—including people with disabilities—the information needed to live a long and healthy life.
  • Listen and respond to the patient’s health concerns. Give each patient the information needed to prevent or treat a health concern—even if the patient does not ask for it. As a health expert, you should offer the information.
  • Communicate clearly and directly with the patient. If your patient does not understand your questions or instructions, repeat what you have said, use other words, or find another way to provide the information.
  • Take the time needed to meet the patient’s health care needs.

CDC’s Disability and Health website provides information and resources that public health practitioners, health care providers, and people interested in the health and well-being of those with disabilities can use to assist with disability inclusion, helping to ensure that every individual, with or without disabilities, can live, work, learn, and play in their communities.

More Information

Visit the website to find helpful information about disability inclusion and learn more about

To learn more about the number of adults living with a disability in each state, visit the newly updated Disability and Health Data System (DHDS), an online interactive tool that provides instant access to nation-wide, disability-specific health data. Users can customize the disability and health data they view, making it easy to find data for adults with or without disabilities and by disability type.

Reference

  1. Okoro CA, Hollis ND, Cyrus AC, Griffin-Blake S. Prevalence of Disabilities and Health Care Access by Disability Status and Type Among Adults — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:882–887.
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