Since its passage 29 years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped the United States become a healthier and more inclusive nation by increasing access and equality for our largest minority group: people with disabilities.
The purpose of this landmark civil rights legislation is to integrate people with disabilities in all aspects of American society. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and ensures full and equal access to transportation, employment, schools, telecommunications, and all places that are open to the public, including health care services and facilities.
In many ways the ADA generation — young adults who do not know life prior to the ADA — have rights, opportunities and a quality-of-life that older generations of advocates only dreamed of. From accessible transportation, parking spots, and universally accessible buildings, to increased communications access (including closed-captioning becoming a part of everyday life) and integrated classrooms, the ADA has opened the gates of access and equality to young and old Americans alike. Yet, much remains to be accomplished to realize the ADA’s vision of full inclusion.
Despite achieving greater life expectancy than other generations, many people with disabilities still do not have adequate access to quality health care, including preventative health care. It is well documented that compared to people without disabilities, people with disabilities face disparities across the board in receipt of preventative care, have more difficulty finding doctors and securing appointments, and have greater general unmet needs.
A series of studies and surveys have found that the share of primary care and specialty offices which have accessible medical diagnostic equipment (MDE), weight scales, examination tables, and diagnostic imaging equipment used for medical diagnosis and treatment purposes, is inadequate relative to the need and demand.
Recognizing the profound impact the inaccessibility of health care can have on the well-being and quality of life of people with disabilities, ACL — in partnership with other federal agencies, researchers, providers, and advocates — has embarked on an initiative to improve the accessibility and quality of primary, specialty, and preventative health care for people with disabilities:
- In 2017, the U.S. Access Board finalized voluntary standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment;
- The ADA National Network has identified health care accessibility as a priority issue and has developed resources, including a webinar series to assist health care providers in meeting ADA requirements;
- The National Council on Disability has released reports and publications on the state of health care for people with disabilities in the United States and has advocated for medical school curricula to become more inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities;
- In January 2019, the Centene Corporation was awarded the 2019 CMS Equity Award for its ongoing commitment to provide equal access to quality healthcare and services through an initiative to increase the accessibility of provider medical offices and services for people with disabilities, in partnership with the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL).
- Higher numbers of people with disabilities are flipping the script and becoming health care providers themselves.
- Today, ACL is releasing an issue brief and business case explaining to providers why it is good business to invest in accessible Medical Diagnostic Equipment. This new resource is being shared with ACL’s partners across the federal government.
In the spirit of the ADA, we acknowledge the foundations laid by those who preceded us, welcome the strides we have made in recent years, and commit to continuing the vital work of promoting equality and access in the sphere of health care delivery and beyond.
Patricia Yeager, Ph.D, is CEO of The Independence Center, a center for independent living based in Colorado Springs, Colorado which is a leader in advocating for “disability-friendly” health care.