Enabling People With Disabilities

Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD


November 09, 2007


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More than 40 million Americans live with a disability, and the number is growing. Returning soldiers, newborn babies, elderly people, sisters, brothers, and friends: Anyone may have or develop a disability that will affect their lives and yours.

The extent that these people can fully participate in their communities is not limited by their injuries or diseases, but by the environment that we create. Working conditions, healthcare, transportation, and housing should accommodate people with disabilities.

We have made progress: New technologies assist people in their environments; access to and within buildings has improved; and advances in public health and medicine have reduced the risk of some disabilities.

However, we still have a long way to go. The Institute of Medicine recommends the following actions ([1]:

  • A comprehensive disability monitoring system should be created to help monitor disability and inform policy makers. There should be more public funding for disability research programs.

  • The Department of Justice should increase efforts to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act, which will require health insurers, for example, to cover assistive technologies and services.

  • Congress and administrative agencies should eliminate long waiting periods for disability insurance and find ways to ease the transition for young people into high-quality, adult healthcare.

  • Consumers and professionals alike should be better educated about the proper care for people with disabilities and about the challenges that they face.

As citizens, we can voice concern about these problems with our leaders in Congress. We can transform the future of disability in America: We owe it to returning veterans, and the public deserves no less.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine.


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