"Health Inequities and Disability: Addressing an Injustice through Advocacy and Research"

Dennis Heaphy & Monika Mitra

Despite calls by the Surgeon General, CDC and others, public health practitioners too often fail to recognize persons with disabilities as a population with a unique history of oppression resulting from lack of civil rights in American society.  Like other federally recognized protected classes such as African-Americans, Latinos and women etc., persons with disabilities as a population have been denied and continue to be denied their civil rights in education, employment, housing, health care etc. Inequities in health access and health outcomes for persons with disabilities as a population remains rooted in discrimination and ignorance just as it does in ethnic and racial minority populations.  These negative social determinants are exacerbated when disability intersects with ethnic or racial minority status.

This presentation will describe how systemic violations of the civil rights of persons with disabilities results in wide scale preventable poor health outcomes and secondary disabling conditions.  It will provide context for these outcomes by providing information on social determinants including, poverty, unemployment, isolation, violence, and low levels of education.  Emerging models that more accurately capture the complexity of disability will be discussed providing participants with a better understanding of why focusing on this population is an important social justice issue.  It will focus on collaborative steps being undertaken in Massachusetts by disability advocates, nontraditional allies, elected officials and state agencies to address inequities in health access and health outcomes for persons with disabilities and their interface with the Affordable Care Act.  Finally, participants will learn five practical methods of incorporating disability into health equity research.

By session's end participants will have the capacity to:

  • Articulate the role of civil rights and social justice in decreasing inequities in health access and health outcomes for persons with disabilities. 
  • Identify emerging models of disability that more accurately capture the complexity of disability
  • Identify 10 social determinants of secondary disabling conditions
  • Name five positive collaborative steps that can be taken across state entities to decrease inequities in health access and health outcomes for persons with disabilities and other populations.
  • Name 5 specific steps to incorporating disability into research addressing health disparities.