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Artwork by Calvin “Sonny” Clarke - Courtesy NACDD and Art Enables

March 2022 is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month-a perfect time to reflect on how far we’ve come-and how much further we have to go- to achieve health equity for people with IDD.

Health equity occurs when all people have the opportunity to experience the best possible health, quality of life, lifespan expectations and access to health care and health related social supports. Eliminating barriers to health equity allows people with IDD to participate fully in all aspects of community life, realize their dreams and mitigate the impacts of poor health and chronic disease burden.

Historically, people with IDD have faced significant barriers to health equity. These barriers stem from many sources, including early ideas about the “medical model of disability” which was predicated on the assumption that people with disabilities were sick, experienced poor quality of life and needed medical intervention to “cure” them.

While we have made progress in moving away from the medical model, people with IDD are still at risk for bias and stereotypes that perpetuate the perception that they experience poor quality of life-and as a result, may not be treated equally by the health care community. This is evidenced by the need for the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, to issue guidance in February 2022 citing the continuing public health emergency and reminding providers that resource scarcity must not prevent individuals with disabilities from receiving needed health care or treatment.

Next came the “social model of disability” emerging from the work of the World Health Organization (WHO), which separated the idea of disability from the idea of impairment and emphasizes inclusion of all people in all aspects of society, regardless of differences in everyday functioning.

More recently, other models of care have emerged including Disability-competent care (DCC) which focuses on supporting individuals to achieve maximum function and approaches each individual as a unique person, not based on their diagnosis or condition. “Disability inclusion” in health care highlights the need for people with disabilities to access the same health promotion and prevention activities as those who do not have a disability.

This evolution has contributed to improved health equity and significant increases in life expectancy for people with disabilities over the past several decades with the number of adults with IDD 60 years or older projected to nearly double from over 640,00 in 2000 to 1.2 million by 2030. But there is still much to be done.

As our thinking continues to evolve about how to reduce health disparities for people with IDD, there are three key approaches that could make a difference, including:

As we celebrate National Developmental Disabilities Awareness, let’s be sure to reflect on what we can each do to continue and improve on the progress that has been made to promote health equity for people with IDD.

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