If ever there were a sound argument for strong occupational safety and health laws, better regulator funding to enforce those laws, and affordable health care for all Americans, it would be this: the simple fact that a full quarter of the U.S. population has a disability that diminishes their ability to work or deprives them of it altogether.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that one in four U.S. adults – about 61 million citizens – has a disability that impacts major life activities.
Analyzing data pulled from the 2016 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, CDC researchers found that disability is more common among women, non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives, lower-income adults, and adults living in the Southern U.S.
According to the CDC, mobility disability – marked by serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs – is the leading disability type, followed by cognition (serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions); hearing, vision, independent living (the ability to do errands alone), and self-care (difficulty bathing or getting dressed).
The percentage of adults with disabilities increased as income decreased. In fact, mobility disability is nearly five times as common among middle-aged (45- to 64-year old) adults living below the poverty level compared to those whose income is twice the poverty level.
It is more common for adults 65 years and older with disabilities to have health insurance coverage, a primary doctor, and receive a routine health checkup during the previous 12 months, compared to middle-aged and younger adults with disabilities.
“People with disabilities will benefit from care coordination and better access to health care and the health services they need, so that they adopt healthy behaviors and have better health,” said Georgina Peacock, M.D., M.P.H., Director of CDC’s Division of Human Development and Disability. “Research showing how many people have a disability and differences in their access to health care can guide efforts by health care providers and public health practitioners to improve access to care for people with disabilities.”
According to the Council for Disability Awareness, millions of working Americans lack adequate disability insurance coverage, meaning they may be just one accident or illness away from a financial crisis.
“Today, the absence of emergency savings, rising medical costs, and an overall trend of fewer employers offering benefits to workers has created a critical blind spot for many American workers and their families. Without some kind of income protection, more Americans are experiencing severe financial difficulty if they need to miss work due to illness, injury, or pregnancy,” the Council for Disability Awareness says.
According to the Huffington Post, a 2013 study determined that lost productivity because of missing work due to health problems costs the U.S. $84 billion every year, and the problem continues to rise.