Remarks as prepared; not a transcript.

Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H, FACS
United States Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Remarks at press conference to launch "The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
1:30 p.m.
Washington, D.C.

"A Call to Caring"

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Peter, for that wonderful introduction.

I've known Pete for more than half his life. He's an inspiration to me.

As you just heard, as a resident I had him on my service when I was a chief. And no one wanted to take him on a surgical rotation because they said, "How can someone in a wheelchair possibly be a surgeon?" Well, as you heard, he developed his own wheelchair design to operate. And in the operating room, as we operated, you would never know that he was disabled. In fact, he was one of the best students that we ever had. He had no problem doing anything that any other student did. He just moved a little differently around the table.

He truly exemplifies tenacity and perseverance. He is well known worldwide for all that he has accomplished. He served his country with distinction in the Army Special Forces and has continued to live his life with integrity and valor. He always puts others before himself. He always finds the time to reach out as a leader and a mentor to underserved populations and people who are struggling. And he's a very humble individual. He does everything very quietly and anonymously.

Like so many in this room, he improves the world through his service and dedication to others.

Call to Action
Today, we are all here to celebrate the launch of "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities."

I am proud to be here with my colleagues to launch this Call to Action.

There is someone I particularly want to thank for her work and for affecting my own life profoundly. When I became Surgeon General, I had the pleasure to meet this lovely dynamo, Dr. Margaret Giannini. She has been a tireless, selfless advocate for people with disabilities for seven decades. The world is a better place because of Peg Giannini. And the world is a better place because of this Call to Action that she led.

This Call to Action is a call to caring.

It is a reminder that every life has value and every person has promise.

The reality is that for too long we provided lesser care to people with disabilities. I'm almost ashamed to say that the medical profession has too often sent people with disabilities to the back of the bus. Too often, the stigma of a difficult patient precludes the value of providing sound patient care.

Today, we must redouble our efforts so that people with disabilities achieve full access to disease prevention and health promotion services.

Today, 54 million Americans, or one in five people, are living with at least one disability, and most Americans will experience a disability some time during the course of the lives.

Some people are born with a disability; some people get sick or have an accident that results in a disability; and some people develop a disability as they age.

As we age, the likelihood of having a disability of some kind increases.

The good news is that by uniting health care professionals, educators, service providers, persons with disabilities, and communities, we can ensure the health and well being of all Americans.

I hope that this Surgeon General's Call to Action becomes a shining light on the importance of caring for people with disabilities.

We are focusing the nation's and the world's attention on how we must work together to overcome the barriers to health and wellness faced by individuals with disabilities.

Specifically, the four goals of this "Call to Action" are:

  1. Increase understanding nationwide that people with disabilities can lead long, healthy, and productive lives
  2. Increase knowledge among health care professionals and provide them with tools to screen, diagnose, and treat the whole person with a disability with dignity
  3. Increase awareness among people with disabilities of the steps they can take to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle
  4. Increase accessible health care and support services to promote independence for people with disabilities

People's Piece
We are also very proud to have developed a special publication that includes all the information from the full Call to Action in a format that every American can understand.

It is designed to increase health literacy about disabilities. Health literacy is the ability of an individual to access, understand, and use health-related information and services to make appropriate health decisions.

Right now, we have a tremendous lack of understanding. That is why we developed this little magazine. It's a plain-language guide to help people understand what the Call to Action says and what it means to them.

We call this magazine the "People's Piece." This poster is the cover of the People's Piece, and we will issue the full People's Piece later this year.

It answers the most commonly asked questions about disability and about what we can all do to help people with disabilities to be healthy and independent.

We will distribute the People's Piece through a number of venues, and it will also be available via our Web site at

If we can spread the messages about the importance of incorporating all Americans into every aspect of life, we will achieve the four goals of this Call to Action.

We can and must become a nation that recognizes the need to break down barriers to health and wellness for people with disabilities.

Working together, we can take this even further: we must be a nation that makes health and wellness for people with disabilities a priority — a national priority.

That you for being here on this exciting day. Thank you for all you are doing. I look forward to continuing to work with you to advance this Call to Action nationwide.


Last revised: January 9, 2007