Disability traditionally refers to the specific interaction between people with severe health conditions or disorders and environmental or personal factors, including limited social support, negative attitudes, and inaccessible public buildings and transportation. According to the World Health Organization (2020), more than 1 billion people across the globe live with one form of disability, and this corresponds to approximately 15% of the global population. Moreover, the number of individuals with disabilities is constantly increasing partly due to chronic health conditions and aging populations.
Even though disability may be extremely diverse, all people with special needs require general health care and access to medical services as anyone else. In theory, Article 25 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) “reinforces the right of persons with disability to attain the highest standard of healthcare, without discrimination” (World Health Organization, 2020, para. 3). However, in theory, only a few countries offer adequate quality health care services to these people. In addition, an insignificant number of countries collect data in the health sector to disaggregate individuals by disability for medical support (World Health Organization, 2020). This issue became more obvious during the pandemic when multiple countries did not include disability in their responsive measures to control the virus. Consequently, in addition to already existing problems with the accessibility of general health care, people with disabilities are currently vulnerable to the coronavirus and its devastating consequences. Moreover, while wealthy people can afford private services, risks for persons with an average or low income substantially increase.
People with Disabilities in Florida
In the present day, despite progress and the improvement of life’s general quality, middle-class adults with disabilities across the country and in Florida still experience considerable differences in behaviors and health characteristics in comparison with individuals without disabilities. In general, 25.6% of adult Americans have some type of disability (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020). At the same time, in Florida, 28.1% of people are disabled (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020). 4.3% of them experience difficulty with self-care (bathing or dressing), 5.8% are blind or have serious seeing issues despite wearing glasses, 6.2% are deaf or have difficulties with hearing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020). However, a prevalent number of disabled people in the state have serious problems with independent living (7.1%), cognition (12.6%), and mobility (14.3%) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020). They experience difficulties with the concentration of attention, memory, adequate decision-making, climbing stairs, and walking.
These people need appropriate basic health care on an ongoing basis. In Florida, 39.4% of adults with disabilities are inactive, 35.1% of them are obese, 25.9% smoke, and 41.2% have high blood pressure (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2020). At the same time, a substantial number of individuals with disabilities and a low income postpone or reject primary and periodic preventive health care, such as cancer screening or vaccination, because of the high cost. In the United States, more than 37% of disabled adults experience delays in receiving expensive primary and periodic care, and in Florida, this issue is highly disturbing as well (Healthy People 2030, n.d.).
Potential Solutions and Already Existing Measures
Disability frequently is not regarded as a public health issue and the situation related to its inclusion in the health sector currently remains unchanged. However, Ministries of Health across the globe “need to commit towards disability inclusion” as all people should receive equal and fair treatment regardless of their peculiarities and health conditions (World Health Organization, 2020, para. 11). Moreover, for the successful implementation of new strategies, reforms in the health care system’s all interacting components are required. In general, the equity should be achieved in three main areas:
- Access for people with disabilities to effective and high-quality health services;
- Access to essential cross-sectoral public health interventions, including clean water and sanitation and hygiene services (World Health Organization, 2020);
- Protection of disabled persons during emergencies.
At the international level, the World Health Organization (2020) guides and supports governmental authorities to improve access to health care for people with disabilities, increase awareness of all potential limitations, and promotes “the inclusion of disability as a component in national health policies and programs” (para. 18). In turn, at the state level preventive and supportive care for individuals with disabilities may be provided through coordinated care, telemedicine, and shared decision-making (Healthy People 2030, n.d.). And strategies that ensure the proficiency of health care specialists and their ability to support and protect disabled people’s rights and dignity should be promoted as well. Moreover, disabled individuals should be provided with all information concerning their conditions and basic self-care skills.
In Florida, the local government pays particular attention to the issue related to the limited access of citizens with disabilities to health care services. For instance, the state participates in the Disability and Health Program (DHP) funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (The Florida Department of Health, 2013). The main objectives of this program refer to the inclusion of all Floridians with disabilities regardless of their age and socioeconomic status in all programs and activities of the Department of Health connected with wellness, disease prevention, health promotion, and disaster preparedness. The DHP works not only with disabled community members but with their families, state agencies, health care providers, and other interested stakeholders.
The Division of Disability Determinations is responsible “for determining medical eligibility for Florida citizens who apply for disability benefits under the federal Social Security Administration disability programs” (The Florida Department of Health, 2013, para. 2). In addition, it periodically reviews all disability beneficiaries to determine if they still meet the criteria of medical eligibility. Another program, the Information Clearinghouse on Developmental Disabilities, may be regarded as educational as it provides all necessary information and resources concerning developmental disabilities for parents, families, pregnant women, and health care professionals (The Florida Department of Health, 2013). In addition, lonely Floridians with disability and low income who needs transportation or physical assistance may search for their county’s Special Needs Registry which provides all necessary services for citizens with special needs (The Florida Department of Health, 2013). Finally, the program Vulnerable Populations identify people with disabilities as vulnerable or at-risk populations that should be integrated into the process of the disaster response’s planning. Its significance is determined by the devastating consequences of recent human-made and natural disasters that have affected disabled individuals to a large extent.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). Disability & health U.S. state profile data for Florida (adults 18+ years of age). Web.
Healthy People 2030. (n.d.). Reduce the proportion of adults with disabilities who delay preventive care because of cost — DH‑01. Web.
The Florida Department of Health. (2013). People with disabilities. Florida Health. Web.
World Health Organization. (2020). Disability and health. Web.