Health Disparities and People with Disabilities

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes between groups that reflect social inequalities. Disability rates vary by ethnicity, age, sex and income, ranging from 10.4% among Asians to 22.6% among non‐Hispanic black to 31.3% among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Unsurprisingly, disability is more prevalent in those age 65 and older (37.8%) than those age 18 to 44 (13.4%). Disability rates are slightly higher for women than for men: 22.4% versus 21.1%. Among people whose incomes are less than $15K, 38.8% have a disability,
while the percentage is a much lower 16.2% for those with incomes of $50,000 or more.1
Health disparities are greater for people who both have disabilities and are people of color. U.S. National Health Interview Survey data show that people with both mobility limitations and minority status experience greater health disparities than adults with minority status or mobility limitations alone in most outcomes measured. Among the measures with the greatest disparities were worsening health, depressive symptoms, diabetes, stroke, visual impairment, difficulty with activities of daily living, obesity, physical activity and low workforce participation.2
Disparities between members of racial and ethnic minorities with disabilities and whites with disabilities are profound. For example, according to the CDC, whites with Down syndrome in the United States had a median death age of 50 in 1997, while the median age was 25 for blacks, and only 11 for people of other races.3
When compared with whites who exhibit the same symptoms, African Americans are diagnosed more frequently with schizophrenia and less frequently with affective disorders. Further, while 44% of whites first diagnosed with depression received antidepressants, only 27% of blacks received the medication.4
Disability rates also vary widely by state. The states with the highest disability rates for adults are West Virginia (29.5%), Kentucky and Oklahoma (27%), Alabama (26.3%) and Arkansas (26.2%). North Dakota and Iowa have the lowest rates, at 17.7% and 17.8%, respectively.5
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