WBUR CommonHealth: Disabled residents face major health disparities according to UMass Medical School report

April 25, 2014

A new report from UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division and the Department of Public Health highlights the ways Massachusetts residents with disabilities “fare worse” than those without disabilities when it comes to physical and mental health and quality medical care, according to a post on WBUR’s CommonHealth blog.

The blog post, Report: Disabled Mass. Residents Face Major Health Disparities, details the findings of a report conducted by the Disability, Health and Employment Policy Unit of UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division in collaboration with the Health and Disability Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The Health Needs Assessment of People with Disabilities in Massachusetts 2013, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, highlights health-related disparities between people with and without disabilities in Massachusetts.

  • 24% of those with disabilities are current smokers compared to 16% of adults without disabilities.
  • Both men (7%) and women (24%) with disabilities were more likely to report lifetime sexual violence compared to men (4%) and women (19%) without disabilities.
  • Adults with disabilities (64%) were twice as likely to report being overweight as those without disabilities (34%).

As part of the needs assessment, an online survey was conducted. The following ten health-related concerns for Massachusetts residents with disabilities were identified through the online survey:

  1. Affordable housing (77% of respondents reported this was a problem);
  2. Adequate dental care (64%);
  3. Adequate mental health services (62%);
  4. Finding a doctor who is sensitive to disability issues (55%);
  5. Transportation to doctor’s appointments (54%);
  6. Communication supports, such as large print, Braille, Computer Assisted Realtime Translation (CART) readers, etc. (52%); 7
  7. Managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes (50%);
  8. Paying for prescription medications (48%);
  9. Finding a doctor who accepts public health insurance (48%); and
  10. Accessible gyms (45%).

Researchers gathered data for the assessment from existing health surveys, an online survey and interviews with members of the disability community.

Survey respondents also shared their impressions of health disparities:

“Sensitivity needs to improve in the medical community to the needs/fears of individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly as the population ages within the community i.e. those NOT living in institutions, group homes, assisted living facilities, or in adult foster care. Better education of health care providers regarding people with disabilities. We are not just our disability, and our disability may not be always be manifested as described in any textbook…”

“Many medical professionals (health/dentists) have been refusing to accommodate Deaf/Hard of Hearing clients’ needs. Many of them requested sign language interpreters and were denied. ”

“….. Also, [there is] no understanding [of] dual serious illnesses - I have incurable cancer and depression - this changes the services I need - adds to them - but no one acknowledges or serves the needs of people with a disability who also has a serious illness - heart disease, stroke, chronic pain, etc… ”

“..people with disabilities are all too often still stigmatized and that stigma leads to being seen as a less important part of the landscape and so we become an afterthought.”

The UMass Medical School team was led by Monika Mitra, PhD, assistant professor in UMass Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, and a faculty researcher within Commonwealth Medicine. Christine J. Clifford, MPH, and Lauren D. Smith, MPH, from UMass Medical School as well as Rachel Tanenhaus, MPH, Bridget Landers, BS, and Georgia Simpson May, MS, from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health contributed to the report.

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