Patients with disabilities: an unmet need

May 15, 2024- The law says that providers must ensure full and equal access to their healthcare services and facilities. Federal civil rights laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, as well as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, prohibit discrimination against Americans with disabilities. But the letter of the law isn’t enough.

“Physicians may be technically ADA-compliant, but that doesn’t mean they are meeting the needs of their patients [with disabilities],” says Carolyn Foster, M.D., MS, assistant professor of advanced general pediatrics and primary care at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The ADA is an incredible law; it is civil rights legislation for people with disabilities, and with it comes specific regulations around space and equipment. But depending on the person’s individual disability and needs, this may not be sufficient.”

What is a disability?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Overall, there are about 42.5 million Americans with disabilities, making up 13% of the civilian noninstitutionalized population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021.

Read More in the latest issue of JHC.

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