People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the U.S., making up 27.2% of the population of the United States (according to Census Bureau 2014 report on prevalence using Social Security data). People with “severe disability” make up 17.6%, and people with upper and lower extremity “functional limitations” make up 15.4%, of the population.
Each of us is only one car accident, one slip and fall, one faulty blood vessel, one diagnosis away from becoming a person with a disability.
In Kentucky, the rates of obesity and high blood pressure are well above the national average—and these rates are even worse for people with disabilities, especially mobility limitations. According to the CDC, 35% of adults in Kentucky have a disability; and they are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Research shows that spinal cord injury is independently associated with up to three times the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, which is comparable to the increased risk caused by smoking. The GOOD news is that the risk factors of all of the harmful secondary health conditions listed above can be improved with physical activity and exercise. There remain significant barriers to people with disabilities participating in health-promoting recreation and physical activity. Gathering Strength works to ensure that people with disabilities have access to physical activity and exercise so they can maintain and improve their health and wellness for a lifetime. In addition to improving access, one of its long-term goals is to change national health insurance policy so that preventative interventions may be reimbursed by insurance.
“For most people, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.” (Mary Pat Radabaugh). Digital technologies are particularly fertile ground for connection and employment for people with disabilities. Through its Inclusive Digital Access pilot project, Gathering Strength seeks to improve access for people with disabilities to high-speed internet, devices, and assistive technology that makes them usable.
It is well documented that people with all types of disabling conditions experience significant disparities in the care they receive from healthcare providers due to access barriers. This lack of care contributes to people with disabilities having unmet medical needs and being at greater risk for secondary conditions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entitles people with disabilities to full and equal access to healthcare services. Healthcare providers should have accessible offices and exam rooms, accessible exam and diagnostic equipment, and should provide reasonable assistance to enable patients to receive medical care. Gathering Strength believes that when healthcare providers cannot be persuaded to voluntarily come into compliance with the law and provide accessible services, enforcement of the law in the courts is necessary.
People with disabilities are far more likely to be socially isolated, which has a proven correlation with poor health outcomes. In Louisville, Kentucky, a 2018 study showed that there continue to be significant barriers in the built environment that make participation in community activities very difficult. One such barrier is the lack of truly accessible parking spaces. The public remains uninformed about the need to keep accessible parking spaces available for people with disabilities, and accessible parking laws are inadequately thorough and inadequately enforced. Gathering Strength seeks to improve state and local parking laws, better educate the public, and organize support for both endeavors.