The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities
from the Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Since 1900, the nation has witnessed unprecedented improvement in the health of its people thanks, in large part, to the public health movement that works to prevent disease and its spread, and to promote mental, physical and emotional well-being. As a result of a century of public health initiatives, such as vaccinations, improved nutrition and sanitation, and new treatments to combat acute illnesses, millions of people have led longer, healthier lives. As a result, the emphasis of the nation’s work in public health has shifted from a focus solely on acute illnesses to a more balanced approach that has added attention to chronic medical conditions and the factors that cause them.
The perception of disability—a condition of the body, mind, or senses of a person of any age that may affect the ability to work, learn or participate in community life—also is in transition. With the recognition that disability is not an illness, the emphasis increasingly is on continuity of care and the relationship between a person with a disability and the environment at the physical, emotional and environmental levels. This approach is based on the knowledge that good health means the same thing for everyone, and that the best possible health status and quality of years of life should be a goal for everyone, whether experiencing a disability or not.
Today, 54 million Americans—more than one fifth of us—are living with at least one disability. Some individuals are born with a disability; others acquire disabilities over the course of their lifetime. At any time, each of us is at risk for acquiring a disability, whether through an illness, an injury, genetics, or any number of other causes. With the “baby boom” generation approaching later life, there will be increased numbers of persons with or at risk for a disability. The sheer numbers of persons with disabilities today and tomorrow mean that disability is an issue for the nation as a whole, not just for those of us concerned about public health.
This Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities is built on the need to promote accessible, comprehensive health care that enables persons with disabilities to have a full life in the community with integrated services, consistent with the President’s New Freedom Initiative. Persons with disabilities must have accessible, available and appropriate health care and wellness promotion services. They need to know how to—and to be able to—protect, preserve and improve their health in the same ways as everyone else. This Call to Action encourages health care providers to see and treat the whole person, not just the disability; educators to teach about disability; a public to see an individual’s abilities, not just his or her disability; and a community to ensure accessible health care and wellness services for persons with disabilities.
This volume provides a roadmap for change. It delineates the challenges and strategies to address this critical public health concern. Because it is based on input not only from health specialists in the disability field, but also from individuals with disabilities and their family members, this Call to Action presents not just a scientific perspective on disability, but also the reality experienced by those living daily with disabilities.
This Call to Action can, and must, resonate with community leaders in both the public and private sectors (including employers and the media) and with policymakers who craft or influence the creation of community programs. The principle and goals of this document can both incentivize and yield dividends for employers of persons with disabilities, including greater productivity and lower overall health costs by preventing illnesses and injuries secondary to a disability. Advocates for persons with disabilities can use this Call to Action to promote the involvement of individuals with disabilities as equal partners in all aspects of American life. With concerted action—undertaken through public-private partnerships spanning all levels of government and all service, education and research systems—the full potential of legal, health policy and health program initiatives to improve access to health and wellness services by persons with disabilities can be realized.
Richard Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.
Last revised: January 4, 2007