Disability and Health
Disability should not be equated with illness. The concept of health is the same for both people with and without disabilities - achieving and maintaining an optimal level of wellness in order to lead a full life. A healthy lifestyle enables people with disabilities to learn, work, and live actively in their communities, but health risks and disparities associated with disability can make achieving good health more difficult.
When compared to people without disabilities, people with disabilities report the following:
- Higher rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity (36% vs. 23%), and depression
- Higher rates of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking (25.4% vs. 17.3%) and physical inactivity (25.6% vs. 12.8%)
- Lower rates of preventative health screenings such as Pap test or mammograms
In addition, people with disabilities are at risk for secondary conditions, which are medical, social, emotional, family or community problems that is related to the primary disability. Examples of secondary conditions include fatigue, pain, social isolation, muscle spasms, anxiety, etc., many of which can be reduced or eliminated with health promotion efforts.
For people with disabilities, health promotion efforts are of critical importance. By engaging in healthy behaviors such as physical activity, people with disabilities can improve their overall health, prevent chronic conditions, minimize secondary conditions, and lead a full and active life.
- The Disability and Health Team located within the the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been a driving force in promoting the health and wellness of people with disabilies. They fund many projects throught the country and support research in all areas of disability and health. For information on these projects and other disability and health resources visit the Disability and Health Team.
- The article, Can Disability, Chronic Conditions, Health and Wellness Coexist?, discusses some of the misconceptions and important issues about the relationship between having a disability and being healthy.
A Call to Action
The health and wellness of people with disabilities is an emerging national and global issue. People with disabilities face more health challenges and greater health risks compared to those without a disability. In a national initiative, The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities, more national attention was brought to this public health priority. The mission and activities of the Inclusive Fitness Coalition are inspired by and support the goals of this Call to Action.
The Call to Action outlines four goals to enhance the health and wellness of people with disabilities.
GOAL 1: People nationwide understand that persons with disabilities can lead long, healthy, productive lives.
GOAL 2: Health care providers have the knowledge and tools to screen, diagnose and treat the whole person with a disability with dignity.
GOAL 3: Persons with disabilities can promote their own good health by developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles.
GOAL 4: Accessible health care and support services promote independence for persons with disabilies.