Health Disparities among People with Disabilities

This is the third article in a series dealing with health disparities.

There are various basic primary and preventive care measures (such as nutritional counseling, preventive dental care, pelvic exams, x-rays, physical examinations, colonoscopies, etc.) that people with disabilities often do not receive.[i] Research from the Department of Health and Human Services sheds some light on health disparities among people with disabilities:

  • Women over the age of 40 with disabilities (72.2%) were less likely than women of the same age and without disabilities (77.8%) to report having had a mammogram in 2008.[ii]
  • People with disabilities are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Yet, nonelderly adults with mobility limitations are less likely to receive cholesterol screening and blood pressure checks, along with other preventive health services, than their counterparts without disabilities.[iii]
  • Dental care is one of the most prevalent unmet health care needs for children with special health care needs.[iv] By 2002, only 40% of children and adults with disabilities visited a dentist. In comparison, 45% of children and adults without disabilities visited the dentist in the same time period.[v]

For people who have both disabilities and are people of color, the health disparities are even greater. Data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey show that people with minority status and mobility limitations experience greater health disparities than adults with only minority status or mobility limitations in a majority of the outcomes that were measured. The greatest disparities that were measured were worsening health, depressive symptoms, stroke, visual impairment, difficulty with activities of daily living, and obesity.[vi] The CDC website contains a large quantity of statistics dealing with health disparities, minorities and people with disabilities. There is also a great article from the American Association on Health and Disabilitythat is very educational.


[i] Kirschner K.L., Breslin, ML., Iezzoni, LI. (2007, March 14). Structural impairments that limit access to health care for patients with disabilities. JAMA, 297:10:1121‐1125; Chan L, Doctor JN., MacLehose RF., et al. (1999). Do Medicare patients with disabilities receive preventive services? Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 80:642‐646; and Manderscheid R., Druss B., Freeman E . (2007, August 15). Data to manage the mortality crisis: Recommendations to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Washington, D.C.

[ii] BRFSSS data. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, 2008.

[iii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2005). The Surgeon General’s Call To Action, To Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General.

[iv] Lewis, C., Robertson, S., Phelps, S., “Unmet Dental Care Needs Among Children with Special Health Care Needs:

Implications for the Medical Home,” Pediatrics, Vol. 116, No. 3 (September 2005).

[v] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2005). The Surgeon General’s Call To Action, To Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General.

[vi] Jones GC, Sinclair LB. (2008). Multiple health disparities among minority adults with mobility limitations: An application of the ICF framework and codes. Disability and Rehabilitation. 30(12‐13):901‐15.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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