Improving Health of People with Disabilities

A man in a wheelchair

Improving Health of People with Disabilities

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) works to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities for good health as people without disabilities.

Disabilities may include difficulty with movement, attention, social interaction, hearing, seeing, concentrating, remembering, emotions, or making decisions. Many people will experience a disability during their lifetimes, but having a disability does not mean that a person is not healthy or cannot be healthy. People with disabilities need healthcare services and programs that provide information on how they can be at their best for the same reasons everyone else does—to stay well, active, and part of their communities. CDC works to ensure that people of all abilities can live their lives to the fullest.

Data for Action

Disability and Health Data System

Use DHDS to help improve the health and the well-being of adults with disabilities.

Get started now!

Visit DHDS at

CDC created the Disability and Health Data System (DHDS) to provide vital information at the state and national levels needed to better understand the health needs of adults with disabilities. Equipped with these data, state epidemiologists, researchers, policymakers, public health professionals, and everyone interested in the health of adults with disabilities can plan for inclusive communities that offer the programs and services needed to improve the health of this population.

DHDS is an online, easy-to-use data tool that provides state- and national-level data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) on approximately 30 health topics for adults with and without disabilities.

Users can access information on six disability types (cognitive [difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering], vision, hearing, mobility, self-care, and independent living) and view data for “Any Disability” and “No Disability,” as well as the difference between the two.

Users can explore data by indicator (for example, health conditions and health risks and behaviors) or by location—then make custom maps, charts, and tables, making it easy to view information for each state. 

  • According to DHDS 2017 data, compared to adults without disabilities, adults with disabilities in the U.S. are more likely to have obesity (39.5 vs 26.3 percent), smoke (27.8 vs 13.4 percent), have high blood pressure (41.9 vs 25.9 percent), be inactive (42.2 vs 24.3 percent).

    According to DHDS, compared to adults without disabilities, adults with disabilities are more likely to be obese, smoke, have high blood pressure, and be physically inactive. These factors can increase the risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers. These chronic diseases are also more common among adults with disabilities.

  • Data from DHDS were used to create NCBDDD’s Disability and Health State Profiles. These fact sheets provide an overview of disability in each state, compared to national estimates. State epidemiologists, researchers, policymakers, public health professionals, and everyone interested in the health of adults with disabilities can use this information to learn more about the percentages and characteristics of adults with disabilities in their states.
  • Disability fact sheet on a tablet computer

    The Ohio Disability and Health Programexternal icon used DHDS to create a fact sheet pdf icon[PDF – 224 KB]external icon for use by healthcare professionals, educators, disability advocates, and community members. The fact sheet describes smoking data in Ohio, and includes resources for quitting smoking that are available to Ohioans with disabilities. The Ohio Disability and Health Program distributed the fact sheet through their website, email network, and social media. They then contracted with the American Association on Health and Disabilityexternal icon to share the fact sheet with a national audience.

  • David Ellsworth, a Health Services Policy Specialist with the Ohio Disability and Health Program, gave a presentation to trainees at the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND)external icon program about “big data.” He discussed how databases, such as DHDS, can be used to convince partners to prioritize efforts that address the health needs of people with disabilities.
  • The Kansas Disability and Health Programexternal icon works to teach the public about health differences faced by Kansans with disabilities. They have distributed more than 400 copies of CDC’s Kansas-specific “Disability Impacts All of Us” graphics page, which includes data from DHDS.

wheelchair icon Annual healthcare costs associated with disability are nearly $400 billion.

DHDS has been updated to include 2018 BRFSS data. DHDS includes disability and health data for years 2016, 2017, and 2018. With DHDS, you can answer questions such as:

  • What percentage of my state’s adult population has a disability?
  • How does this population vary by age, sex, and race/ethnicity?
  • How does my state compare with other states and the nation as a whole?
  • How does the percentage of diabetes, obesity, or heart disease vary by different disability types?

Notable Scientific Publications