Grand Rounds: People with Disabilities and Public Health

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By Gloria Krahn (Director, CDC’s Division of Human Development and Disability)

On December 18, 2012, CDC hosted a Public Health Grand Rounds promoting opportunities for the best quality of life for individuals with disabilities. You can access the event in the Grand Round archives.

The facts: One in six adult Americans live with a disability when defined by a limitation in function, and $400 billion is spent annually on disability-related health expenditures.  Many are at higher risk for health problems, injuries, and increased vulnerability during disasters.  Comparatively, people with disabilities are 4 times more likely to report their health to be fair/poor and 2.5 times more likely to have unmet health care needs than non-disabled peers.

After the Grand Rounds session, I had the chance to talk further with CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH and Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association about how our organizations can include people with disabilities in health programs and services.

Dr. Frieden stressed the importance of reaching this population and stated that “If we’re not inclusive we end up with two huge problems: one is that we’re unjust to the population and the second is that we’re not being as effective as we could be as organizations; we’re not taking advantage of everyone’s capacity.”

Dr. Benjamin agreed.  “We saw in the data today [at CDC Grand Rounds] that there are huge issues with health inequity. Unless people recognize we have this problem, that there are important things we can do, we’re never going to achieve equity in our society. Our goal is to get as close to equity as we can.”

The future of public health includes addressing these gaps.  Dr. Frieden focused on the solutions. “One area where we need to further advance is in the area of crafting and implementing solutions. As we outlined in the first CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report, those solutions can be of two different types. First a general approach to inequalities and disparities. The second is targeted approaches. We need both. With the leadership of Senator Harkin and other people in Congress, with the Americans with Disabilities Act, we’ve entered into a new era of inclusion. We need to bring that era further forward to help everyone reach their full potential.”

Dr. Benjamin pointed out that this is something that everyone should be concerned about.  “As I get older, when I get up a little stiffer than I did the day before, it’s clear someday I will have more challenges. Everyone should be able to see themselves in this place. Those people with disabilities, they’re not somebody else. We all need to see ourselves in this.”

There may be something YOU can do to live better.  Dr. Frieden prominently mentioned  physical activity in the Grand Rounds session, saying that it is “closest thing we’ve got to a wonder drug.”

Dr. Benjamin concluded our talk by stressing that “we must focus on people with disabilities or they’ll be left behind. It’s another opportunity for us to work collaboratively with CDC, a focused initiative on prevention for people with disabilities across programs. Whether it be mammograms, colonoscopies, getting into a place that gives a flu shot… we have to plan proactively for inclusion. If we don’t, people with disabilities will be left behind.  We saw that with race and ethnic disparities. People get left behind.”

The Public Health Grand Rounds is a monthly webcast created to foster discussion on major public health issues. Each session focuses on key challenges related to a specific health topic, and explores cutting-edge scientific evidence and potential impact of different interventions. The Grand Rounds sessions highlight how CDC and its partners are already addressing these challenges and discuss the recommendations for future research and practice.

Please join us for our next Ground Rounds on “Preventing Venous Thromboembolism” January 15, from 1-2pm EST.

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Page last reviewed: March 4, 2013
Page last updated: March 4, 2013