ADA Anniversary: Including People With Disabilities in Public Health

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July 26th marks the 24th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that strengthens the inclusion of people with disabilities.    

Anyone can have a disability and a disability can occur at any point in a person’s life.  An estimated 37 million1 to 57 million2 people are living with a disability in the U.S. and many people will experience a disability some time during the course of their life.  When the ADA was enacted on July 26, 1990, its stated goals were to promote equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.3

Disability and Health Data System (DHDS) Interactive Comparison Map

CDC has embraced the spirit of the ADA. In 2010, CDC Director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden established an initiative to serve the health needs of people with disability in the United States.   He later stated in 2012, “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.”4    

People with disabilities need public health programs and health care services for the same reasons anyone does—to be well, active, and a part of the community.  Unfortunately, major health gaps exist between adults with and without disabilities on leading indicators of health.  For example:  

  • 30.3% of adults with disabilities reported they currently smoked cigarettes every day or some days, compared to 16.7% of adults without disabilities. (Disability and Health Data System (DHDS), 2012 data.)
  • 38.4% of adults with disabilities were obese, based on body mass index (BMI) calculated from self-reported weight and height (kg/m2), compared to 24.4% of adults without disabilities. (Disability and Health Data System (DHDS), 2012 data.)
  • 42.7% of adults with disabilities reported sufficient aerobic physical activity, compared to 54.5% of adults without disabilities. (Disability and Health Data System (DHDS), 2011 data.)

CDC’s Division of Human Development and Disability at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) recognizes ADA as a platform for the inclusion of people with disabilities in federal efforts related to health and health care.   

NCBDDD developed Disability and Health Data System (DHDS) to provide public health programs with instant access to national and state-level health and demographic data on adults with disabilities.  

Man talking with a doctor
Jerry is a 53 year old father of four children. Jerry has also had a disability for over 35 years. In 1976, Jerry was hit by a drunk driver. The accident left him as a partial paraplegic. Jerry’s life is not defined by his disability. He lives life just like anyone else without a disability would live their life. Jerry states, "I don't expect the world to revolve around us. I will adapt, just make it so I can adapt."

 Supporting State and National Disability and Health Programs  

Currently, 18 state-based disability and health programs are supported by NCBDDD to make sure that individuals with disabilities are included in ongoing disease prevention, health promotion, and emergency response activities within the state. NCBDDD also partners with five National Public Health Practice and Resource Centers (NPHPRC) to improve the lives of individuals living with disabilities by promoting health information, education, consultation and inclusion of health care professionals, people with disabilities, caregivers, media, researchers, policymakers and the public.  

Moving Forward  

Visit CDC’s website for more information on CDC’s work to include people with disabilities in public health.


Map of United States with CDC funded state disability and health programs
18 CDC-funded State Disability and Health Programs
  1. U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey, 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S1810; generated by Michael H. Fox.
  2. Brault MW. Americans with disabilities: 2010. Washington, DC: US Census Bureau; 2012.
  3. State of Georgia’s ADA Coordinator’s Office.  History and Spirit Behind the ADA.
  4. Public Health Matters Blog.  Grand Rounds: People with Disabilities and Public Health

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4 comments on “ADA Anniversary: Including People With Disabilities in Public Health”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Your point: “major health gaps exist between adults with and without disabilities on leading indicators of health” says it all. This is a vastly underserved population that needs special emphasis. I’m glad you are reporting on this gap in health status. I hope the CDC makes strong efforts to improve the situation.

    There needs to be college classes offered that aren’t just life skills. In college students should be allowed to get help on how to register for classes by a family member, worker or guardian. The college should also offer job training for specific types of jobs.

    People with disabilities should be allowed to have a savings account in case of emergency. Community classes for sports and hobbies should be offered as well. People with disabilities are so isolated with becomes a poor quality of life.

    The most challenging situations involve the disabled with Service Dogs protected under ADA. This group is not addressed in this important article unfortunately.

    Sadly the most challenged group is not addressed in this article. Those with Service Dogs protected by ADA are routinely discriminated against in many medical facilities.

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Page last reviewed: July 22, 2014
Page last updated: July 22, 2014