Disability and Health Information for Health Care Providers

Photo of children playing healthcare provider roles

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.
  • Engaging in risky health behaviors, including smoking and physical inactivity.

People with disabilities often are more susceptible to preventable health problems that decrease their overall health and quality of life. Secondary conditions such as pain, fatigue, obesity, and depression can occur as a result of having a disabling condition.

Health disparities and secondary conditions can be the result of inaccessible health care facilities and equipment, lack of knowledge among health professionals about specific differences among people with disabilities, transportation difficulties, and higher poverty rates among people with disabilities.

Accessibility applies to both communication and physical access. For instance, health professionals need to 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 should ensure that accessible medical equipment is available for people with disabilities (such as scales, examination tables, or chairs). In addition, providers should plan for additional time during examinations, if needed. Some examinations may take longer than others, for all sorts of reasons, in the normal course of a medical practice.

Learn more about inclusive health care »

What Health Care Providers Can Do

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities asks that all health care 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.

For More Information

TOOLBOX: Improving the Receipt of Clinical Preventive Services among Women with Disabilities
Health information and links to existing tools that were designed to increase the use of clinical preventive services among women with disabilities.

Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults — United States, 2005-2014: According to the report, smoking prevalence higher among those reporting having a disability compared with those who reported no disability.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities
This call to action asks all Americans to help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities through better health care and understanding.

Video Icon

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.

Access To Medical Care For Individuals With Mobility Disabilities
In this document from the American with Disabilities Act you will find information on general requirements, commonly asked questions, accessible examination rooms, and accessible medical equipment.

Institute of Medicine Report: The Future of Disability in America [2.91 MB, 619 pages]
To better understand disability in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Institutes of Health asked the Institute of Medicine to assess the current situation and provide recommendations for improvement, which culminated in the report “The Future of Disability in America in 2007”.

World Health Organization: International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health
At this website, you can learn more about the World Health Organization’s framework for measuring health and disability at both the individual and population levels.

Healthy People 2030
Healthy People 2030 reflects assessments of major determinants of health and wellness, changing public health priorities, and emerging issues related to our nation’s health preparedness and prevention.

Communicating with and about people with disabilities
At this website, you can read examples of respectful terms that can be used when referring to and talking with people with disabilities.

Health Promotion Interventions
At this website, you can read about the American Association on Health and Disability’s information on a variety of health promotion interventions for people with disabilities.